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Previewed 16 July 2003, Opened 22 July 2003, Closed 25 October 2003 at the Duke of York's Theatre in London
Shared Experience presented Polly Teale's After Mrs Rochester in London following a successful regional tour.
Jean Rhys's inspired prequel to Jane Eyre Wide Sargasso Sea, gave Mrs Rochester - the madwoman in the attic - her own remarkable story. But Jean's own life was just as extraordinary. Polly Teale's After Mrs Rochester tells Jean's compelling story and reveals how her obsession with Charlotte Brontė's Jane Eyre became the catalyst for "one of the works of genius of the 20th century" (The Times). Presented by Shared Experience who are acclaimed the world over for its powerful, visually stunning productions.
Born in Dominica in the West Indies, the daughter of a white Creole mother, Jean Rhys (1890-1979) was sent to England when she was sixteen. Following a series of demi-monde jobs she settled in Paris and with the encouragement of Ford Maddox Ford, began to write. Rhys published several novels and short stories between 1927 and 1939 during which time she returned to England. For the next twenty five years she disappeared from public view until Wide Sargasso Sea, widely acknowledged as one of the works of genius of the twentieth century, was published in 1966.
The cast for After Mrs Rochester in London features Diana Quick as the old 'Jean Rhys' and Madeleine Potter as the young 'Jean Rhys' along with David Annen, Sarah Ball, Syan Blake, Hattie Ladbury, Amy Marston and Simon Thorp. The play is written and directed by Polly Teale with movement by Leah Hausman, designs by Angela Davies, lighting by Chris Davey and music by Howard Davidson.
"When the troubled novelist Jean Rhys liberated Mr Rochester's railing Creole wife from her attic in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre by writing her back story in Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys released a lot of her own pain as well. That's what comes across forcibly in Polly Teale's play, a touring hit from Shared Experience now in the West End... The production gradually grips, helped by superb physical ensemble acting that avoids drama-class histrionics. The chairs and trunks that dot Angela Davies's set can be part of Rhys's Devon home or stepping stones and rocks crossed by the young Rhys and her black best friend. A huge closet can be the backstage of the chorus or a snooty London clothes shop. The cast is equally protean, whether it's Hattie Ladbury as Rhys's martinet mother and a prissy schoolmarm or Simon Thorp and David Annen as a succession of cads and ineffectual men. And anchoring it all are Diana Quick, gripping as the bewildered, drunk and dishevelled old Rhys, and Madeleine Potter, captivating as the bright and brittle young Jean. Occasionally frustrating in its episodic nature, After Mrs Rochester turns into an absorbing piece of storytelling and a poignant, poetic pleasure." The Times
"Angela Davies's set for this riveting psychodrama is the sort of place many of us visit in our nightmares - a drab room with a locked door, lowered over by a hefty wardrobe and stuffed with tatty suitcases. This is the room in which Jean Rhys has locked herself at the outset of the play. But it is also clearly represents her mind: an uncomfortable place full of messy baggage... It's a clever play, building on Rhys's story as she built on Bronte's, and weaving elements of both together to consider alienation, mental illness and the creation of character. And Teale directs it with immense poise and audacity, giving the production a slightly hallucinogenic edge. It is beautifully acted, too... There are times when its Gothic streak pulls it close to melodrama, but this is still a rich, brave piece: a great addition to the West End." The Financial Times
"Anyone who reads Jane Eyre will be haunted by Mrs Rochester, the mad first wife, a crazy Creole who escapes from her attic prison just in time to sabotage Jane's wedding. Writer Jean Rhys made her the heroine of her novel The Wide Sargasso Sea, and in After Mrs Rochester another writer, Polly Teale, suggests that Bertha Rochester had an even stronger imaginative hold on Rhys... Bertha Rochester represented the sensualist in Rhys, her darker, depraved, demonic, broken self, the unacceptable part she endeavoured to suppress and conceal in order to fit into polite English society. As Rhys says: 'You become what others want you to be.' But at some cost to your true self. Teale not only gets right inside the writer's head but also under the skin of the repressive, hypocritical society which moulded her. Both Jean Rhys and Mrs Rochester are on stage throughout this impressive, enthralling, illuminating play... Teale's bold, fluid and extraordinarily accomplished approach (and direction) combines a surreal, dreamlike quality with the romantic sweep, suspense and scale of a Gothic novel... This is a stunning, painfully real portrait of an artist, an outstanding production flawlessly performed. Total theatre." The Mail on Sunday
After Mrs Rochester in London at the Duke of York's Theatre previewed from 16 July 2003, opened on 22 July 2003 and closed on 25 October 2003