Review: Jane Eyre at Exeter Barnfield Theatre

Exeter Express and Echo online (31 October 2014)

The Brontë Season at the Barnfield got off to a spine-chilling start last night with Jane Eyre – not least due to an astonishing solo performance from Alison Campbell.

Presented by Butterfly Psyche Theatre and Livewire Theatre, and having already visited Bath, Radstock and Bristol, The Brontë Season sees three classic novels brought to the stage in a fresh and minimalist way.

The first, Jane Eyre, celebrates Charlotte Brontë’s Gothic story of an orphan girl turned governess. Adapted by Dougie Blaxland and directed by Jazz Hazelwood, the tale follows Jane through dismal childhood to infatuation with Rochester in the grand but eerie Thornfield Hall – with some chilling moments along the way.

As Campbell’s solitary figure was illuminated on stage, my lack of homework was immediately betrayed as I waited for others to join her – even when Jane’s crisp voice morphed into the Yorkshire tones of Mrs Fairfax, I still supposed that Rochester’s arrival would see another figure enter the scene. Surely Campbell couldn’t single-handedly bring Jane’s tale to life?

I was proven wrong though – and happily so. When Campbell became Mrs Fairfax, or Adele, or Rochester, it wasn’t just her voice that transformed, but her face, her posture and her whole character – she became those people in the fullest way possible, which was breath-taking to see.

Speaking to an empty chair, or addressing the gloom beside her, I could really believe there was someone there. Campbell made us see what she saw, and drew us into the story in a way that – remarkably – never seemed pantomime-like or forced.

Jane’s portrayal struck me at first as too animated – far from the beaten down, quiet creature I’d always seen her as, Campbell’s Jane was vibrant, poised and confident. However, as the play went on, I came to like this Jane. She drew us onto her side from the beginning, and in such a minimalist piece, Campbell’s talents as a dynamic and versatile actress shone.

The play’s structure proved a refreshing take on the story – interspersing Jane’s adult life with childhood horrors gave the show a haunting feel, with clever lighting changes and effortless transitions by Campbell meaning the flashbacks worked beautifully.

Lighting and sound effects were minimal – which made them all the more hair-raising when they were used. A mad woman’s cackle or a thunderclap sent shudders through the shadowy theatre.

Jane Eyre provided an eerie and entrancing opening to The Brontë Season – with tonight’s Wuthering Heights promising similar thrills.

Tonight’s performance (Friday, October 31) of Wuthering Heights begins at 8pm, while Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall shows at 8pm on Saturday 1 November.

For more information visit: http://www.barnfieldtheatre.org.uk/the-bronte-season/

>>View original Express and Echo review>>

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