Jane Eyre

Sydney Street Theatre, New Farm (Harvest Rain Theatre Company)


I have to admit it, and it’s a big crime. I was a Charlotte Bronte virgin. Upon going to see Polly Teale’s stage adaptation of this Bronte classic, I had never picked up a single novel penned by the 19th century English writer.

This play was my introduction to the author and I think it is safe to say I will be hitting the library tomorrow, if only to see if Charlotte has done as good a job with her story as Polly Teale. (Mind you, as my very wise editor said, there’s a good case for seeing a play with an entirely fresh perspective, as I would not be spending the night judging the production against a remembered version of the novel.)

Orphaned Jane (Tanya Dougherty) is a timid girl with a hidden passionate inner self Bertha (Kathryn Marquet) whose presence acts at times as a friend to Jane and at others as a menace. At the tender age of 10, Jane lives with her cruel, unloving and oppressing auntie who happily carts her away to Lowood Institution, a harsh and unfeeling school where her only dear friend dies of tuberculosis.

As an adult she becomes the English teacher of a delightfully peppy French girl (Elizabeth Gibney) at Thornward, a house in the countryside, where she meets the man who is destined to change her life forever the master of the house, Mr Rochester (Edward Foy).

Foy’s performance is enthralling and commanding. He exudes a confidence and extremely strong presence which roots him firmly to the stage.

The sexual tension between Mr Rochester and Jane is thick and palpable. It rolls across the audience in a thick mist an anticipated and longed for tension reminiscent of Darcy and Elizabeth. With speeches, spiels and tenderness that’ll make your heart skip a beat, their chemistry underlines the fact that this was the 19th century equivalent of our romantic comedies and chickflicks.

The onstage dynamic between Jane and her alter ego Bertha is brilliant; opposite in all aspects of their characters, they yet combine with a fluid and transcendent unity. Dougherty embodies Jane as a strong yet unstable, vulnerable young woman whereas Marquet’s alter ego is rampant, emotional and fantastically physical and unhinged.

Joanna Butler’s choreography and direction are precise and dramatic, timed to perfection and working well with the script. The lighting is subtle yet effective in setting a number of scenes, and the soundtrack appropriate and mood changing.

Josh McIntosh’s set is sparse but extremely successful.The Van Gogh-esque galvanized copper shrunken room on the left-hand wall of the stage acts as a wonderful visual tool in giving us an open window into Jane’s psyche. A constant caged animal through vexation, anger and pain, a light is always shone on this inner sanctuary. Or is it a dark and macabre prison?

This production amazes in its variety. It’s witty, it’s dry, it’s high brow, it’ll have you laughing out loud and gasping in disbelief.

With exuberant and fresh performances spun into an old worldly air of rich, classical and gifted portrayals from the entire cast this play is a success. Dynamic direction ensures this show is a wonderfully entertaining way to spend an evening.

Playing: 9th to 31st May

— Grace Naug
(Performance seen: Thu 8th May 2008)