Cora Alexander

Romance, passion, mystery, revelation - Georgina Deri’s production of Jane Eyre brings Charlotte Brontë’s ‘feminist manifesto’ to the Cambridge stage for the first time in Camdram history.

Brontë’s novel tells the story of a young, friendless orphan, growing up in the house of her late-uncle’s family before being sent away by her aunt to complete her education. On leaving school, Jane becomes a governess to the ward of the enigmatic Mr Rochester, a deeply troubled man, haunted by the mistakes of his past. There, at Thornfield, Jane re-discovers the passion and animation of her childhood, and begins to hope for a future such as she had never previously imagined. Polly Teale’s adaptation brings this English literary classic to the stage, employing physical theatre and multi-roling to create a highly stylised play, which nevertheless remains faithful to the original.

When I spoke to Georgina Deri about the challenges of staging a play adapted from a novel she explained that she had returned to the original text at a number of points. Teale’s adaptation, she tells me, “pushes the notion that Jane and Bertha are two sides of the same person, Bertha’s madness demonstrating the consequences of an over-passionate nature in Victorian society. I was keen to humanise Bertha beyond the idea of Jane’s passionate self. Re-exploring the relationship between Jane and Bertha has been potentially my favourite part of this process,” she continues. “Her interactions with the women in the play provide moments of respite from her devastating situation and suggest an element of female solidarity despite their powerlessness in a male dominated society.” Imani Thompson, the actor playing Bertha, tells me how much more authentic this interpretation feels: “I’ve really enjoyed telling a different – less clichéd and more sympathetic – story for Bertha.”

“Re-exploring the relationship between Jane and Bertha has been potentially my favourite part of this process.”

When I asked Georgina what else makes her production different she drew my attention to the original score and the use of live music, which she feels has added a new dimension to the show: “So much of the emotion and intention of Jane Eyre lies in the unspoken, what is left unsaid or unseen; using music allows Jane to express her passionate inner feelings out of view of society through the medium of movement, at times expressionistic.” In particular, she highlights the use of music in the travelling scenes, which enables “a connection to be formed between Jane’s physical journeys from place to place, and her emotional and spiritual journey to navigate the balance between feeling and reason.”

Music also features in the form of song when Mr Rochester and society belle Blanche Ingram sing a duet at a party at Thornfield. Frankie Richards (Blanche) tells me that this scene is her favourite in the play: “Mr Rochester just leaves Blanche while they’re singing a duet and he just walks off to talk to Jane! Luckily Blanche handles it like a boss and calls him out on it.” Ben Owen (Rochester) considers this scene an example of his character’s “sociopathic tendency to instrumentalise others for his own ends.”

When asked about the challenges of playing such a role, Ben explains that Rochester is “obviously not a bastion of sympathetic morality for the entire play, but in some ways that type of (quite starkly!) imperfect character is easier to play than the paragon of virtue.” Brontë’s characters, it seems, are loved for their moral complexities. Sophie Stemmons (Brocklehurst/Lord Ingram) tells me that she too has enjoyed exploring the less admirable aspects of her characters: “My favourite characters to play are ones with underlying darkness to them, so Brocklehurst has been a lot of fun!”

“The greatest challenge is playing Jane over such a long period of her life, and maintaining a sense of character growth.”

Kay Benson (Jane) gives me her thoughts on playing the eponymous role: “the greatest challenge is playing Jane over such a long period of her life, and maintaining a sense of character growth over 19 years. It is interesting to see how she is made who she is through the course of the play – the abuse she receives as a child, the constraints placed on her as a woman. Learning the accent has also been a good challenge!”

Charlotte Horner (Adele/Helen) tells me she has really enjoyed learning French and Yorkshire accents: “It’s a lot harder than it seems but has made for some really entertaining moments during the rehearsal period,” she says. “This show is such a great visual and theatrical interpretation of a classic novel, and I love how the alterations in the stage adaptation bring to life Brontë’s text, making it really exciting for audiences.”

For my own part, it has been a real pleasure to work on this production as assistant director and to help Georgina bring her innovative interpretation to the stage. The cast have really grown into their parts over the course of the rehearsal process and as we enter the last few days of preparation, it is incredibly exciting to watch their hard work come together.


Mountain View

The Tempest is a relaxing evening at the Howard

Jane Eyre will be showing at The Brickhouse Auditorium in Robinson College at 7:30pm, Wednesday 6th to Saturday 9th November.

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