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Jane Eyre (musical) - Royal Academy of Music


Some fellow audience members observed during the interval how this production is largely female led (well, there’s a clue in the title) with the male members of the company in supporting roles, extending as far as doing much of the pushing and pulling of set and props, whilst the women more often than not took centre stage. This musical adaptation retains the first person narrative of the novel, although the storytelling format takes a while to get used to – there are, perhaps, half a dozen women who speak as the title character through direct addresses to the audience, and in the first few scenes, Young Jane (Molly Hopkins) engages heavily in dialogue whilst the adult Jane Eyre (Lucy Carter) looks on.


Bear in mind this is a student production, and therefore everybody looks more or less the same age anyway, because the actors, although playing characters of various ages, ARE more or less the same age themselves. I won’t get into whose ‘mother’ looked younger than the ‘daughter’ – that really would be unkind, even by my standards – suffice to say there’s enough detail in the script to allow the audience to tell one character from another reasonably easily.


Victorian Protestant Christianity is very much embraced – there was so much religious content in places that I started to wonder if someone was going to sing a ridiculously high-pitched prayer a la Les Misérables. I suppose there’s something to be said for the power of forgiveness, and how (without necessarily converting to any given religion) it can help a person heal emotional and psychological wounds of the past. Even here, though, it’s not for everyone, with Mrs Reed (Jessica Johns-Parsons), Eyre’s aunt on Eyre’s mother’s side, unable to put an end to the bitterness and hatred harboured towards Eyre – her late husband had, allegedly, cared more for Eyre than for his own children.


I trust you will forgive, so to speak, a second comparison to Les Mis, but there’s actually more dancing in that show than there is in this one – a gathering of Edward Rochester’s (Pétur Svavarsson) contemporaries at Thornfield Hall, one of those very grand mansions that if it were real would probably have been sold off to the National Trust at some point and now be enjoying a second life as a visitor attraction, involves conversation and not much else, and although Eyre and Rochester eventually marry, the reception isn’t portrayed on stage.


Some scene changes were quite clunky, and considerably noisier than one would expect even from a drama school (okay, so it’s not technically a drama school but a music conservatoire that has a musical theatre department, but even so). Lucy Carter in the lead role had a phenomenally stand-out singing voice and a versatile stage presence, able to convey vulnerability as well as self-assertiveness. There is as much compassion as there is steely fortitude. Herimone Juniper Leitch, as Leah, one of the servants at Thornfield Hall, had a section of the audience (presumably the one with her friends and family in) in stitches with an exaggerated northern accent – it seemed to be off on a UK tour of its own. The laughter stopped once Leitch had assumed the role of Bertha Mason in a later scene, Rochester’s first wife, tied down and strapped to a chair on account of being insane.


There’s an aura of refinery and decorum in this show – even the housekeeper, Mrs Fairfax (Jessica Johns-Parsons) has standards, and is horrified when Eyre deviates from expected norms. A schoolgirl in the row in front of mine struggled to maintain interest at times, but at least she managed to stay awake, which is more than can be said for a man in the stalls (no, not me) who was, from what I gathered afterwards, awoken by his own snoring. Just don’t expect the kicks, spins and twirls of 42nd Street: that wouldn’t be proper for characters dressed in period costumes. Emotionally deep without being overwhelmingly sentimental or melodramatic, this adaptation effectively strips the novel down to its essential elements. Most importantly, you don’t need to have read Jane Eyre the book to understand Jane Eyre the musical. It has a lot of heart, even if I don’t recall any of the musical numbers or their lyrics the morning after the night before.


Photo credit: Craig Fuller

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