Featuring a breath-taking performance by Ariadna Gil, this Catalan theatre adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre distances itself from the bleak, freezing Yorkshire moors, and reimagines the North as a stiflingly formal, anonymous lobby with a grand piano and four identical doors reflected ad infinitum in vast mirrors at each end.
Gil plays the eponymous lead in a permanent state of fragile defiance; pale and thin in a figure-hugging outfit, she seems always in danger of overexcitement. Behind dark glittering eyes, a savage intelligence lurks and escapes in bursts in a resonant voice of surprising authority. Not a battered Yorkshire elm then but a Costa Brava poplar, that bends yet resists the forceful coastal wind! Yet it is in this slight strangeness to the familiar English Jane that this Catalan Eyre expresses that ‘otherness’ so intrinsic to the Brontë’s books…
Taking on such a classic was daunting, admits director Carme Portaceli; the 500 page 1847 Romantic novel has been sliced down to just two hours by Anna Maria Ricart, who lifted key lines in an authentic adaptation that honours the need to tell local audiences the story.
Jane Eyre – a parentless girl who defies abusive relatives, who is sent to a grim boarding school, who becomes a governess at the gothic mansion Thornfield Hall and who falls for its owner, Mr Edward Rochester, a gruff brooding man with a terrible secret hidden in the attic.
The play does much more than recount a series of events, of course, and it is to the credit of this production that it manages to liberate both book and character from the weight of countless English Lit. classes and BBC costume dramas, not to mention the near-mythical status of the Brontë sisters themselves, intimidating to aspiring authoresses world over!
Layers on Layers
Conflicting forces are at play within and without Jane: between civilisation and nature, love and autonomy. This is key to her ‘restless nature’ that, she states, prove that she and all women are equal to men – an extraordinarily radical suggestion for the time!
Jane’s emotional landscape is exposed though huge colourful projections (Eugenio Szwarcer, Ignasi Camprodon) depicting recognisable views of the Brontë’s Howarth home painted over impressionistically in a creative confusion of fiction and fact. And just as incongruous costumes, that appear medieval or modern gothic, are draped over characters, so Gil (who read Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte Brontë to prepare for her role) plays Eyre in the guise of Brontë, occasionally lifting herself out of the drama to address the audience directly, thus reigning in the melodrama and retaining the light irony of the author’s tone. Of course, Brontë herself was in guise too: adopting the androgynous pseudonym ‘Currer Bell’ to get her novel published.
Fiction or Fact
The writer Henry James described a ‘house of fiction’ with a million windows on which each novelist looked onto reality, and there’s something of this in the way Jane/Charlotte builds her own life story, characters appearing and disappearing and move about as if scripted by her. The one and only time she leaves the stage – in her bust up with Rochester, characters lose their coherence and a chaos descends.
It’s at this time that the play digresses on the novel to explain the story of Bertha, the hysteric in the attic. This detour, that draws on the 1966 Jane Eyre ‘prequel’ Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys makes a troubling interlude, pointing accusingly to Rochester’s libertine past.
Naturally, though, idealism does win out in the end! “For this isn’t realism it’s romance,” states the actor Abel Folk, who plays Rochester. Although, it is only when Bertha is sacrificed, Rochester blinded and dependent, and Jane suddenly rich that she accepts her man as her social as well as her intellectual equal… And if only real life were that simple!
Jane Eyre – Una Autobiografia
Teatre Lliure – Gràcia
until March 26th *SOLD OUT* 🙁