A fresh look at Jane Eyre
HOT’s Erica Smith creeps into The House of The Heroine and is immersed in a whole new world of Jane Eyre.
I get excited about all the ExploreTheArch productions because they never fail to challenge and delight. To an extent, there is a ‘house style’ – innovative use of the domestic space, gentle audience engagement, pulleys and levers (courtesy of @PoorlyBeetle) and playful experimentation, but each production has its own identity.
Thankfully, The House of The Heroine is not a linear re-enactment of the whole 450 pages of Jane Eyre. Instead it explores themes in the book: Bewick’s beautiful wood-engravings of birds are brought to life by Gail Borrow, and an internal dialogue is played out between forthright and principled Jane Eyre (Charlotte Ellen) and the remarkable Cecile Varens (Maria McAteer) – one of Rochester’s mistresses from his louche years overseas.
On arriving at the venue and passing under the arch of books, look out for the clues to the characters stuffed into the pigeon holes in the porch. You will then be ushered into ‘Europe,’ which is warm and decadent with glasses of wine on hand and drawers full of curiosities to rummage through.
The narrative begins in Yorkshire, with a slate floor and tree stumps to sit on. Instead of paper props, twigs are hung to create the ‘nests’ of Thornfield Hall and the other places that Jane Eyre lived. It is easy to forget the full story of Jane Eyre and the many places that she lived, and whilst it is far from essential to be familiar with the novel, it is tempting to take a sneaky peek at Wikipedia for some helpful reminders.
The production leads us back to Europe and the audience is encouraged to dance, before returning to Yorkshire which has become very cold. Even the wood-burning stove is used to great effect, and plays a wonderful duet with Mr Rochester’s piano (played by the composer, Vladimir Miller). The music is an integral part of the performance and Miller’s piano is beautifully accompanied by Juliet and Alice Beadle on flute and violin.
The House of the Heroine made me hungry to re-read Jane Eyre. Charlotte Brontë wrote her novel 10 years before Freud was born, yet the dreams and imagery of the book are the stuff of Freudian analysis. ‘The mad woman in the attic’ doesn’t feature strongly in this production, but her presence is felt – as are the writings of Brontë’s precursors, Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley. Jane Eyre’s refusal to become Rochester’s mistress or St John Rivers’ missionary wife show her to be a woman way ahead of her time. This short dramatisation made me think about Jane Eyre in a whole new way. Bravo! to Explore The Arch!
Performances: run until Tuesday 7 March, 8pm, doors open at 7.30pm. Ticket availability and venue details are on the website.
This production is part of A Town Explores a Book: #JaneEyreProject
See also The Literary Shed’s review of the Jane Eyre Project.
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