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
“the two actors bring to life the banter of sisters, the directness of the council estate kid, the familiarity of workmates…”
For those unacquainted with this particular style of documentary theatre, what sounds like a distracting stage procedure to convey humdrum small talk turns out to be a very enlightening yet grounding discovery. Verbatim technique – performing the words of interviewees – was created by American actor, Anna Deavere Smith. Taking the genre a step further, Alecky Blythe, in 2003, set up her company Recorded Delivery and, rather than allowing actors to interpret the words, she relayed the transcripts live to them through earphones. They remained faithful to the original delivery of the lines, giving themselves over to the dialogue and retaining every stutter, cough and hesitation, their own egos lost in the effort of concentration. Preserving what journalists would normally discard, we find ourselves listening intently, using the intonation and pauses and half sentences as clues to their train of thought and connecting closely to their openness.
Alyce Louise-Potter began her own exploration of verbatim style in 2014, creating Spur of the Moment. After her one-woman show about mental health, her new production, ‘Class’, in collaboration with Kelsey Short, delves into the minds of the working class with a collection of entertaining and reflective conversations from south east London locals – coincidently, my own neck of the woods. Cleverly edited to illustrate a cross-section of society, the separate tales, reflections and opinions fit together in colourful harmony. Through these intertwining stories, we build an attachment to the various characters and an insight into their views on prejudice, stereotypes, accents, work, money, upbringing and values. On a practically bare set and with just a couple of changes of hat, the two actors bring to life the banter of sisters, the directness of the council estate kid, the familiarity of workmates… The community get on with their lives, coping with situations, proud of who they are and where they are from. There is no bitterness or resentment and no sentimentality. Xander Mars’ direction helps with a fluid yet unhurried pace which draws us into their reality.
This is a refreshing production with a positive message. The technical skill involved is hard to imagine, especially in the dialogues but the personalities portrayed by Alyce and Kelsey are so vivid and captivating that we are barely aware of the method. By its very nature, ‘Class’ is not for dramatic effect but is simply to tell the truth and bring to the theatre the voices of those who would not otherwise have the opportunity. We realise that what people say about everyday things is fascinating and through their honesty, it is also funny, touching and enriching.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Tristan Bates Theatre until 3rd August as part of Camden Fringe 2019