Adapting Jane Eyre is difficult. Too melodramatic and it becomes ridiculous, too tricksy and the heart of the narrative is lost.
Laura Turner opts for a pretty straight telling, bound up in the eternal ‘head versus heart’ dilemma. There are long tracts of “and months passed” narration interspersed with action from key scenes such as the falling from the horse. But most curiously, she almost entirely passes over Eyre’s early years of oppression - where arguably her force of will is developed. Only a few minutes in, we’re at Thornfield Hall, where Jane will teach Adele, the young French girl.
All of which means we’re never quite sure of Eyre’s motivations. Rebecca Hutchinson plays her as fretful, at times rather needy of love - which she does well, but lessens the impact of her protestations of independence. Rochester isn’t meant to be particularly likeable, of course, but Andrew Dowbiggin gives him a conniving edge which dampens the spark of romantic love the audience needs to believe in.
A shame, because there is a lot to like here. Viktoria Kay takes on the multiple roles of Mrs Fairfax, Bertha, Blanche and so on with great enthusiasm, only tripping up with a French accent straight out of ‘Allo ‘Allo! for Adele. The set has to be packed up every night and taken somewhere else, so Graham Kirk works wonders in terms of literary atmosphere, although the lighting was a problem in Sale. The spooky folk music is perfectly judged.
In the programme notes, Nick Lane calls Jane Eyre a “rattling good yarn”. True enough, but therein lies the problem - in concentrating on narrative, the emotional depth of this adaptation suffers.