It seems like there are two groups of people when it comes to Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre. There are those that see it is as a dry dusty book that they were forced to slog through in school, or they consider themselves almost rabid devotees, able to recreate scenes instantly. I’ve read the book twice and have the Charlotte Gainsbourg movie version on DVD – guess to which group I belong? So, I was definitely interested to see this show.
After Mrs. Rochester, written by playwright Polly Teale, looks at the life of Jean Rhys, the author of Wide Sargasso Sea – a sort-of prequel to Jane Eyre. Rhys’s life connects in many ways to Brontë’s book, starting from her childhood growing up in the West Indies where Rochester’s character meets his mad wife. Teale’s play follows Rhys from her strict childhood to her time spent as a young showgirl in London through to the publication of her most famous book.
This is a play with many layers, both emotionally and literally. It’s about a writer who wrote a book because of an obsession with another book. We therefore see Rhys in the present, flash back to her past, and even view scenes enacted from Jane Eyre in order to show how they connect to Rhys’s life. One effect I quite enjoyed was seeing Mrs. Rochester (played by Tina McCulloch) haunt the stage throughout the production, a spook as much to Jean Rhys as she was to Jane Eyre in Rochester‘s mansion. It really feels like you’re watching three stories unfold at once, but because of Teale’s script and some very efficient direction from Laura Roald, it never feels confusing.
The stand-out member of the cast for me was Jessica Rose, who played the young version of Rhys, known as “Ella.” The story centres around her character, and Rose has the most to work with emotionally. I would like to commend all of the actors though, who were very committed to the production. Tabitha Keast and Laine Newman play the handful of supporting male roles, and I imagine that must be difficult to do convincingly – which they did – so I give them credit for that.
I enjoyed this production very much. In fact, I was disheartened to see that the house was quite empty on the Saturday evening that I attended. The play is an entertaining one and the cast give a lot of themselves. I encourage theatre fans to go see it. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
– After Mrs. Rochester is playing at the Alumnae Theatre, 70 Berkeley Street until October 7, 2011.
– Performances run Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm, and Sunday afternoons at 2pm.
– Tickets are $20, with 2-for-1 tickets on Wednesday evening and pay-what-you-can for Sunday matinees. (Note: tickets are cash only.)
– Tickets can be purchased at the theatre one hour before show time, or by calling 416-364-4170, select Box 1 for reservations or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit to Dahlia Katz. In photo (L to R): Susan Q. Wilson (Jean Rhys), Jessica Rose (Ella) and Kanika Ambrose. (Tite)