‘Jane Eyre’ on Stage

There’s a lot I don’t particularly like about the BU London Abroad program. I could rant for quite a while about how much the program costs and then how cheap they are when it comes to some things, about how they can’t get their crap together when it comes to housing, about how they don’t provide us with enough information about certain things…See? Once you get me started, it can be hard for me to stop.

But, in general, I don’t hate BU. It’s just easy to complain sometimes. In truth, BU can be pretty helpful if it wants to be. For example, they use their magic group buying powers and tuition fees to offer us a limited number of discount theater tickets in London. That’s how I was able to see Jane Eyre at the National Theatre.

My ticket and the free program accompanying the show.
My ticket and the free program accompanying the show.

I set off early that night, so I took my time getting there. I stopped to admire the National Theatre’s ‘60s, modernist architecture: strong, solid concrete masses, standing proudly under colored lights. Once inside, I watched the people—tourists and students and workers—have a drink or a conversation before the show.

I eventually made it to my seat, and it really struck me then how good my ticket was. Here I was, in the orchestra, in the center of the row, and the stage fully fleshed out in front of me. Not too close, not too far. Goldilocks would’ve been ecstatic. I wasn’t going to complain about BU tonight. Other BU student eventually joined my section, and we chatted until the show started.

Now I’m not a theater critic, just an audience member who knows and loves the source material. If you want a critical opinion from someone who really knows theater, there are plenty of sources for you. All I know is that I was deeply moved and impressed by the performance.

The set was minimal: wooden platforms and metal ladders that converted from one location to another through the use of lighting. The cast was limited: everyone, save the woman playing Jane Eyre, took on several different parts, transforming themselves from role to role with the aid of simple costumes and props. Instead of hindering the imagination, the lack of artifice actually made the story more personal, more real. It was as if the empty spaces on the stage allowed the audience to easily slip in to the narrative and fill it with their own emotions. I came close to tears several times.

The stage and my view of it.
The stage and my view of it.

Overall, it was a wonderful adaptation of Brontë’s novel. All the famous speeches were included; all the famous characters were present. But what makes a good adaptation of a classic, something that stands out from the dozens of other versions, is the new way in which it presents the well-worn story. Besides the aforementioned minimalism, the play also offered the most complex and sympathetic take of Bertha that I’ve ever seen. (If you don’t know who Bertha is, read the book or watch the 2011 movie.) She became more of symbol of femininity and passion than the stilted archetype she usually is. (I will never listen to Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” the same way ever again.)

They did leave some things out, though. Largely, they were little, inconsequential details: the gipsy scene, Miss Temple, etc. The only point in the storyline they mentioned but never brought up again was Jane’s extended family on father’s side. (You know, the uncle that leaves her a bunch of money…) But in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t really matter. As an audience member, you still fell satisfied at the end.

And that’s exactly how I felt as I walked out of the theater and back into the London rain and gleaming lights.

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