Sadler’s Wells, London
May 15, 2018
One of the major advantages of producing a Victorian novel as dance is that it is stripped of verbosity and the melodrama, well, mellows. With Jane Eyre, Cathy Marston packs in a fair bit of detail whilst making a few fitting adaptations to ensure clarity.
Clever and interesting choreography, combined with Philip Feeney’s wonderful original score and apt selection of insertions are sufficiently distracting from the inescapable fact that the plot is riddled with as many holes as a leaky colander. Although Charlotte Brontë was 31 when she wrote it, it is more like a teenage novel of sentimental romance, its continuing popularity possibly having more to do with her positioning as a female literary pioneer than any inherent credibility in character or storyline.
Whilst there isn’t much that Dreda Blow can do to undercut Jane’s intrinsic vapidity, she suggests enough inner turmoil, expressed through physicality, to make her eminently watchable, not least because she is provided with four shadowing men who embody her inner demons, dancing in canon as if to stress the repetitive nature of mental anguish running around her head.
Marston provides her with simple yet effective gestures: standing on a chair when punished at home and at school, for instance. There is a sense that her body is in a whirl of protest against her situation, limbs flinging wildly and torso almost thrown at other characters.
Alonso-trained Torres could have been born to play Edward Rochester. He utterly embodies the English aristocratic cad right down to the self-pity when he is blinded after the fire. His Rochester has all the stillness that aristocratic arrogance demands. He prevents Jane from leaving the room by languorously extending a leg as if he is too idle to move and too lofty to touch a mere girl, or rather, he controls how and when he chooses to touch her. Of course, it is much more likely that he would have married Blanche Ingram for her money and status (as he had Bertha) and just had his wicked way by consent or otherwise with Jane, who is after all, only a governess and apparently alone in the world. Torres and Blow do of course execute passionate and dramatic pas de deux with the only fault being that they are a little repetitive and do not carry the narrative along.
Victoria Sibson’s Bertha, whilst not conveying the racial dimension of the character, is a marvellous mad woman in the attic. Her ragged red dress suggests that she has been tearing frantically at her clothing and echoes the flames of her pyromania which, without the unlikely intervention of Jane wandering round in her nightie to douse them, eventually consume both house and Bertha.
Marston sensibly makes Bertha more central to the action than Brontë, enabling her to appear and snatch Jane’s bridal veil away. Whilst not exactly The Wild Sargasso Sea, it does at does at least provide an opportunity to consider Bertha’s point of view.
Ailen Ramos Betancourt is a splendid Grace Poole, her mob cap nodding furiously as she struggles to contain Bertha, collude with Rochester and placate Jane.
Patrick Kinmoth’s set and Alastair Wests’s lighting combine to evoke a sense of place rather than an elaborate setting. The ever-present moor underlines the isolation of both place and characters and the two fires are especially well-imaged. The huge back of the chair reminds of the master of the house even when he is not present and Torres positively owns it as the only piece of furniture on the stage.
Philip Feeney has written another glorious score and inserted works contemporary with the novel to contrast period with the mental turmoil of the characters. The clarinet takes the lead almost as the vice of madness, ably played by Joanne Rozario. Northern Ballet Sinfonia gave an excellent account of the score under the baton of John Pryce-Jones.