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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Jane Eyre 1937 by Helen Jerome

I have read the entire play now. Well... It is silly, there's no way around that, but it is also a strange piece of adaptation on many ways. I can appreciate that some of the strange new scenes come about because of staging concerns but others appear to be odd ways of interpreting the text. Some of the necessary evils are that the set can only be one location- an indoor scene. And so for acts one and two there is only the drawingroom of Thornfield, with a downstage right door which leads to an entire wing of the house where 'the madwoman' roams. The room sometimes is transformed into 'the library' quite easily. In act three it becomes the drawingroom of Moor House. Of course, this means no Gateshead, Lowood, or Hay Lane scenes not to mention Jane's wanderings.

So, how do Jane and Rochester meet? He finds her warming her feet and she unknowingly ruffles him by asking what he's doing there. It's sometimes a bit overly dramatic- which I think you could see from my last post on the play. So he indeed informs her that there's something quite horrible behind the door. It's a silly scene also because it introduces a fetish he has for small women. It does include one of my favourite 'new' exchanges, the first words they speak to eachother, in fact:

Rochester: And who might you be? Where did you come from? Have you descended from a moonbeam? Or are you a discontented hamadryad escaped from your oaky prison?
Jane: I am just Jane Eyre, the new governess.

Rochester: Deuce take me, if I hadn't forgotten! The new governess! "Just" Jane Eyre!

Much is made of her smallness. In the stage directions he should somehow make it known that he is thinking about how tiny her shawl is when he is rubbing and kissing it.

And as for Lowood, Mr Rochester joins the audience as Jane performs her past for him and us. She impersonates everyone and acts it all out in the drawingroom/library.

We are told a lot that Mr Rochester does not laugh. And then he laughs all the time. He laughs a lot. Too much maybe. But characters still come in later to say you know how Mr Rochester never laughs, and all that. He also has somehow acquired the ability to vacate a room with a single glance. Servants stampede towards the door at one look from him. He goes so far as to tell John that he never even speaks to servants unless he wants something and until then STAY OUT OF MY WAY! Or... something like that. Again, silly. He also has extreme mood swings. Of course he is supposed to be 'changeful' but I'm sure Charlotte didn't mean that he would draw Jane into an embrace only to shout at her and throw her out of the room. Or nearly break down at the saddness of her former life and then yell at her for being so depressing.

Jane is the most enigmatic element of the entire production. She comes in with a superhuman power of some kind, starts off pleasant and at ease. She is often 'demure' around Rochester but only at certain times (times when it seems more like flirtation, to be honest). But then she tells him about how she punched Mr Brocklehurst etc... She has a great speech about women, modelled on Jane's musing on the leads, but then she ends up in the end espousing something like: "love is what makes one endure superiority". Is this a marriage of equals? It appears not. Oh, I forgot to mention that in this play Mr Rochester thinks women are stupid and silly things. This never seems to change. He just thinks Jane is one really amazing woman. I thought she should have "pummelled him with my little fists" at that, but alas...

As for Bertha... she doesn't get to do very much. And all of the mystery is cut out by the revellation in the first act! We all know that Mr Rochester's relative is up there, and all of the significant glances at the door serve no real purpose except perhaps to make us slightly apprehensive that she'll come down and choke someone again. There is also no explaination of how that first marriage came about. He cuts directly to begging her to stay.

The ending was very disappointing. It was the most ineffective part of the entire work. There were really good moments, I must say. And aside from this total insanity there were lovely passages which were more or less lifted from the book (stage directions were also lifted from the novel. For example, Rochester's motivations are transposed from later chapters where he describes how his feelings for Jane developed). The ending uses much of the text, except for a few silly alterations, such as Jane expressing a 'who asked you, anyway?' attitude about staying. But it all ends with something like this:

Jane: And now, dear, show me the spot.
Rochester: The spot? What spot do you mean?
Jane: The spot where you first learned that God really does care.

It really deserved far better than that. Other really poor choices are the way Mr.Eyre's intervention comes about. It is glaringly tagged on in an attempt to abridge Mrs. Reed out of the play. Everyone is confused about how Mr Mason knew about the wedding until Jane pipes in saying she wrote to him because she wanted to show Mr Rochester that she had at least one respectable relative! It reads as uncomfortably as it must look on stage. Does she value herself or not? It's so very hard to tell. Speaking on Mr.Eyre and the letter, there is no scene of Jane rejecting Mr Rochester's presents... He just doesn't buy her any in the first place. But there is one very curious inclusion! Here we have dramatised one of my favourite scenes from the novel- the 'carriage scene' when Mr Rochester recasts a meeting with Jane as a fairy tale for Adele. Only here, Mr Rochester and Jane are teasing eachother on their wedding day. It's delightful! It still suffers from some unfortunate lines "I'll lay you down on the rim of a crater- the crater of my heart!" And I really cannot imagine Jane digging around in his pocket for her wedding ring.

Another odd element is that Mr Rochester admits that Adele is his daughter but that "she will never know". A strange choice to make, and one that leaves many unanswered questions as do the comments about women. Taking everything into account, it would definately deserve a second reading.

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