Wilde Theatre, South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell
Reviewed – 3rd November 2020
“Kelsey Short’s Jane is a captivating and empowered northern lass with bags of inspiring grit”
How to compress a blockbuster three volume novel from 1847 into an engaging theatrical experience for audiences today? That’s the challenge that writer-director Nick Lane has risen to splendidly in this thrilling adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Jane Eyre’.
It’s the work of South Hill Park’s resident company Black Eyed Theatre which has a deserved reputation for exciting and innovative theatre with minimal grant assistance.
Poor plain Jane. She’s the put-upon girl ‘whose capacity for love is seemingly limitless’ that’s at the giddying centre of this first person narrative. Her struggle for self-determination through the years from schoolgirl right through to motherhood is Brontë’s inspiring subject.
The cast are multi-instrumentalists and singers and take up to five roles each. The action takes place on a stark and impressively contemporary set by Victoria Spearing which is particularly well lit by Alan Valentine.
Kelsey Short’s Jane is a captivating and empowered northern lass with bags of inspiring grit. The splendid Ben Warwick is Mr Rochester, the mysterious owner of Thornfield Hall. In his high-waisted britches (costumes by Naomi Gibbs) he has a lean and hungry look and gives an energetic and winning performance.
This is the kind of rigorously honest production where all the cast are on stage almost all the time, even as they make their costume changes. Their tight ensemble work is the motor that keeps the energy up and drives the action forward. Camilla Simeon, Eleanor Toms and Oliver Hamilton are all compelling performers, deftly switching from role to role, and even instrument to instrument, mid-tune.
The story is something of a melodrama, albeit with plenty of humorous moments, so it’s appropriately broken up with plenty of folksy tunes and atmospheric musical mood-setting by composer George Jennings.
Reviewed by David Woodward
Photography by Alex Harvey-Brown
Wilde Theatre, South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell until 4th November
“From the very first scene it’s plain just how wonderful Bennett’s writing is”
For its latest Covid-secure performance since reopening, Theatre Royal Windsor is this week staging Alan Bennett’s ‘The Lady in the Van’ which is presented by a cast of eight, reading from scripts behind microphones on stands. This forms part of their four latest ‘Windsor on Air’ shows.
The opening night crowd was good, with rigorous precautions ensuring their saftey.
‘She came for three weeks – she stayed for 15 years’. This film tagline describes Alan Bennett’s real life relationship with an elderly ex-convent novitiate and bag lady who took up residence in a mimosa-painted van on his front garden. Miss Shepherd was a less than fragrant woman of mystery, who increasingly came to dominate his existence up to her death in 1989.
The playwright (who is himself an actor) appears twice as a character in this piece, which was first published in prose the year of Miss Shepherd’s death. That Bennett is a ‘national treasure’ is entirely a truism, but the line deservedly reflects his droll way with words and his huge success with ‘The Lady’ and others including ‘The History Boys’, ‘Talking Heads’, ‘The Madness of King George III’ and ‘Habeas Corpus’.
It must be daunting for any performer who is asked to walk in the footsteps of either Bennett or another treasure, Dame Maggie Smith, who portrayed Miss Shepherd so memorably in the 2015 film. David Horovitch is the younger Alan – a name that “has as much flavour as a pebble”. He has some nice interplay with his older self who is writing the piece for us. RADA trained Matthew Cottle gives an uncannily good impersonation and both have accent and delivery just right. Jenny Seagrove did not reference Dame Maggie, but gave her own tremulous voiced and feisty interpretation of the part.
From the very first scene it’s plain just how wonderful Bennett’s writing is. But in this radio studio style performance, with the cast glued to microphone stands and their scripts, it all starts to get just a little bit samey by the end of the first half. The sparkling dry quips seem to pepper almost every speech, and I felt that on this particular opening night, the ensemble weren’t quite gelling as they should.
Things get better after the interval when some of the mystery about Miss Shepherd is revealed. Martin Carroll does sterling service as the Foley man (sound effects artist). Other cast members – Sara Crowe, Ashley D Gayle, Elizabeth Counsell (a memorable Mam) and Alan Howell all have their moments in the story. Roy Marsden directs this pleasant entertainment.