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Theatre review Free spirit takes flight

PAUL FOLEY sees a life-affirming adaptation of the classic novel Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre
Octagon Theatre, Bolton

“I AM no bird and no net ensnares me. I am a free human being with an independent will” — thus Charlotte Bronte’s great heroine Jane Eyre declares defiantly as she rages against a world that not only enslaves women but denounces those who speak out in the name of equality.

It's little wonder that the novel caused such an uproar when first published in 1846, with one reviewer accusing Bronte of being nothing more than a Chartist sympathiser. Given the novelist's withering attack on “good” society, it was a label that she was probably proud to wear.

Bronte's story follows Jane’s life from a poor orphan cruelly treated by her aunt and her banishment to an oppressive religious boarding school. As a young woman she appears to find some happiness as a governess for the rather odd Mr Rochester’s ward.

But she hadn’t reckoned with the scary antics in the attic. Fleeing to start again, she suffers near death until a chance beneficiary improves her station. Returning as a wealthy woman, and with Rochester having finally sorted out his attic problem, they can be together as equals.

Janys Chambers and Lorna French’s new adaptation remains faithful to this narrative arc but they've created a play with a very modern resonance.

Jane’s frustration at the lack of opportunity for women hangs like a leaden coat on the shoulders of many now, just as it did in the mid-19th century, and her struggle continues to inspire many of today’s movements for equality and justice.

The young children portraying Jane’s early years do a fine job creating the back story of her resilience and defiance, with the older Jane played by Jessica Baglow. She embodies her as a sharp, intelligent and proud woman who will be cowed by no man and her excellent performance is matched by Michael Peavoy as Rochester.

Marvellously confused and conflicted, he ultimately comes to recognise Jane’s strength, giving him a sense of peace and love.

Jane Eyre may be a novel from the past but its themes certainly strike a note today.

Runs until February 10, box office:



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