Jane Eyre

Previewed 23 November 1999, Opened 25 November 1999, Closed 24 December 1999 at the Ambassadors Theatre
Previewed 9 May 2006, Opened 12 May 2006, Closed 29 July 2006 at the Trafalgar Studios 1

Shared Experience Theatre Company present their acclaimed production of Jane Eyre in London for a limited West End season.

Jane Eyre is poor, obscure and plain. But locked up in the attic of her imagination lives a woman so passionate, so wild, so full of longing, she must be guarded night and day for fear of the havoc she would wreak. Who is this terrifying woman who threatens to destroy Jane's orderly world: a world where Jane has for the first time fallen in love... Stunning visual imagery and powerful performance style combine in Shared Experience Theatre's award-winning production, transforming Charlotte Bronte's great novel into extraordinary and deeply affecting drama.

Adapted from the novel by Charlotte Bronte by Polly Teale. Directed by Polly Teale with movement and choreography by Liz Ranken, designs by Neil Warmington, lighting by Chris Davey and music by Peter Salem. The 1999 cast featured Harriette Ashcroft, Joan Blackham, Penny Layden, Michael Matus, Hannah Miles, Sean Murray, Philip Rham and Octavia Walters.

"Psychoanalysts talk of the need for a mad room, a private, solitary space where you can rage and rampage to your id's great benefit. Polly Teale's marvellous adaptation and production of Jane Eyre presents us with just such a place. It is sited on the top of the charred, fragmented staircase with which Neil Warmington fills much of the stage. This is both the red room in which the child Jane is imprisoned as a punishment and the attic in which crazed Mrs Rochester is kept locked - with reason, since the two characters are clearly aspects of the same self, which is Charlotte Bronte herself. Sound tricksy? Actually, it strikes me as sharp literary criticism as well as a fascinating theatrical device, and, as such, wholly characteristic of Teale's Shared Experience Company. In the past she has staged novels from The Mill on the Floss to War and Peace with the aid of a few planks and even fewer performers. But in Jane Eyre, which her troupe first presented at the Young Vic two years ago, she combines the same dramatic resourcefulness and narrative momentum with a new complexity of feeling... the eight-person cast perform wonders of transformation, and, with one lead actress saying goodie-goodie things and the other running amok, the thrust is unmissable. A kind of schizophrenia afflicted Jane Eyre, her author, many Victorian women - and maybe some of their descendants today." The Times

"Like director Polly Teale, I haven't read Jane Eyre for years, and it was a real pleasure to re-acquaint myself with the story through Teale's full-throated adaptation for Shared Experience. The company bring the same dramatic virtues of dynamism, textual faithfulness and passionate ensemble performance to Charlotte Bronte's novel that they have deployed in adaptations from George Eliot and Tolstoy in the past... Layden is perfect casting for Jane, and her fluttery, disconcerted movements sets the tone for the physical language of Teale's production. This is expressive, if sometimes unruly. Sean Murray's Rochester is almost ape-like in his animal swagger: he's charismatic enough for the part, but tries to compensate for his lack of years with an aristocratic growl that sounds uncannily like Spitting Image's impersonation of Prince Phillip. Octavia Walters is delightfully exuberant as Rochester's ward, Adele. Michael Matus is overly psychotic as Rochester's rival, the chilly preacher St John Rivers, but he is very engaging as Rochester's dog. He, and all of Teale's cast, supply a series of vivid cameos, and work together seamlessly. There really are no stars or supporting artistes here. Teale's adaptation brings the mad wife out of the attic and Bront' herself to the fore. This is a faithful, psychologically incisive and sexy take on a classic novel, but it probably wouldn't work half so well without Warmington's set. A charred and battered stairway leading up to a jagged platform, it somehow captures the brooding, compulsive atmosphere of Bront's story before anyone has set foot on stage." The London Evening Standard

"The acting throughout the new Shared Experience stage adaptation of Jane Eyre is unusually horrid. And, alas, it is horrid on purpose. Exaggerated, sub-expressionistic, sweaty, hammy, neurotic, at once intense and superficial... Some of these eight Shared Experience actors have been known to be good. Here, however, you can tell that Polly Teale - who has directed and adapted this production - has slaved and enthused and urged them to give us acting of this kind of laboured fatuity... such perpetually overwrought twitchings, such ghastly physical and vocal strenuousness, such ludicrous self-flagellating masochism as Penny Layden gives us should win some kind of prize. But everyone in the cast gives her a good run. Michael Matus, in several roles but especially as St John Rivers, wins the Only-Act-When-They-Can- See-The-Whites-of-Your-Eyes medal. Octavia Walters is the most irritating member of the cast: her manic Infant Phenomenon antics as Mr Rochester's ward Adele are only surpassed by her pious I'm-going-to-heaven martyrdom as the dead, consumptive Helen Burns. Sean Murray, as Mr Rochester, orates arduously as if he were delivering dictation over several Yorkshire moors: this involves showers of spit every time he opens his mouth... The novel of Jane Eyre has its memorable elements of Gothic melodrama, but it transcends them. The Shared Experience version, by contrast, is all melodrama, and so overripe that it is almost fun." The Financial Times

Jane Eyre Shared Experience Theatre in London at the Ambassadors Theatre previewed from 23 November 1999, opened on 25 November 1999 and closed on 24 December 1999, returned to Trafalgar Studio 1 previewed from 9 May 2006, opened on 12 May 2006 and closed on 29 July 2006