The University Players at the University of Windsor opened their 2017/2018 season with Polly Teale’s adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The riveting story of a downtrodden young lady who grows up to fall in love with her employer, the story transferred well to the stage and made for an engaging night of theatre.
I remember studying “Jane Eyre” in my Victorian Literature class at the University. I recalled it being a sprawling story with several locales and time periods, and so part of me wondered how they would adapt that to the stage, but with the bare-bones set it was easily transformable into all of the locations required. The costumes were beautiful, ranging from everyday wear to stunning formal wear. Role doubling (or sometimes tripling) was also required to fully create Jane’s world, and I thought it was masterfully handled by the actors. The adaptation hit all of the major points of the novel without it dragging on or feeling like there was a gap in the story. Truly, the only thing missing was the famous “Reader, I married him” line from the end of the novel (I understand it would have been difficult to include, but some sort of variation would have been a nice nod to fans of the novel).
As I previously mentioned, I was very impressed by the actors of Jane Eyre. Lauren Fields, who played Jane, was fantastic and her Irish accent was very well done. I especially liked Alicia Plummer’s physicality in her roles as Bertha/Jane’s Inner Self. Her mirroring of Jane initially in the play was very well done, but then as the play progressed and Jane’s Inner Self was harder to keep in control, her movements became more intense and expressive. They were accompanied by an on-stage musician for some of the most pivotal scenes, creating a full audio/visual gateway into Jane’s mind.
They were supported by a stellar cast comprised of Jacob Free, Cole Reid, Taylor Brinmer, Xanath Fuentes, Eva Flores, and Averey Meloche. Their performances were equally as impressive in their own ways, with everyone breathing life into their characters. I really enjoyed Taylor Brimner and Cole Reid’s duet, Xanath Fuentes’ French accent, and Jacob Free and Avery Meloche’s animal impersonations. The play was exceptionally well acted, and I commend all of the actors for their fine work.
The only criticism I have of the play does not come whatsoever from anything the actors or designers did, but was a fault of the adaptor. It is established at the beginning of the play that Jane’s Inner Self is being represented by an actress, and that as she grows up she has to set aside those passions, and so she gets locked in the “attic” of Jane’s mind. So then towards the end of the play as Jane is falling in love with Mr. Rochester, the audience can see Jane’s Inner Self “banging” helplessly on the door to the attic, trying to get out. And yet Jane then articulates how her inner passions are struggling to be free. It was totally redundant given what was going on onstage. Also, there was a huge time discrepancy between the first and second acts. 80 minutes is a very long first act and there were several opportunities where it would have been fine to place intermission. As I said before, this is no fault of any of the artists involved, merely my observations on the adaptation itself.
This was a great start to the University’s Season; a huge undertaking which was performed beautifully by all. The University’s next show, The Dining Room by A.R. Gurney opens this Friday, October 27th and runs until November 5th.