Featuring a breathtaking performance by Ariadna Gil, this Catalan theatre adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre distances itself from the wild Yorkshire moors, and reimagines the north as an anonymous lobby, with a grand piano and four identical doors, reflected ad infinitum in big mirrors at each end.
Gil plays the lead in a permanent state of fragile defiance; pale and thin in a figure-hugging outfit, she seems always on the edge of overexcitement; behind glittering eyes a fierce intelligence lurks, escaping in bursts in a voice of authority. Not a battered Yorkshire elm then, but a Costa Brava poplar that bends yet resists the coastal wind. And it is in this slight strangeness that this Catalan Eyre expresses that ‘otherness’ so intrinsic to the Brontë’s books.
Taking on a classic was daunting, says director Carme Portaceli; the 500 page 1847 novel has been sliced down to two hours by Anna Maria Ricart, who lifted key lines in an authentic adaptation, which recognises the need to tell a story. Jane Eyre is an orphan who insults abusive relatives and is sent to a grim boarding school. She becomes a governess at the daunting mansion Thornfield Hall, and falls for its owner, Mr Edward Rochester, a gruff brooding man with a terrible secret hidden in the attic.
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.
Jane’s emotional landscape is exposed though massive colourful projections (Eugenio Szwarcer, Ignasi Camprodon) depicting recognisable views of the Brontë’s Howarth home painted over in a creative confusion of fiction and fact. And just as incongruous costumes, medieval or modern gothic, are worn by characters, so Gil (who read Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of Brontë to prepare for her role) plays Eyre in the guise of her narrator: occasionally lifting the character out of the drama to address the audience directly. Brontë herself was in disguise too: adopting the 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 perceived reality. There’s something of this in the way that Jane/Charlotte constructs her life story; characters appear and disappear as if scripted by her. The one time she leaves the stage, characters lose their coherence and chaos descends.
The play digresses on the novel to explain the story of Bertha, the hysteric in the attic. This detour draws on the 1966 Jane Eyre ‘prequel’ Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys and makes a troubling interlude, pointing to Rochester’s libertine past.
Happily, though, love wins out in the end: “For this isn’t realism it’s romance,” says Abel Folk, who plays Rochester. Although, it is only when poor Bertha is sacrificed, Rochester blinded and dependent, and Jane suddenly rich, that she accepts her man as her social and intellectual equal!
Jane Eyre – Una Autobiografia
Teatre Lliure – Gràcia
until February 1 2019