Youth theatre at its very best

Jane Eyre: Charlotte Bronte, Suffolk Youth Theatre: New Wolsey Theatre Three years ago the Suffolk Youth Theatre did an adaptation of Oliver Twist.

Ivan Howlett

Jane Eyre: Charlotte Bronte, Suffolk Youth Theatre: New Wolsey Theatre

Three years ago the Suffolk Youth Theatre did an adaptation of Oliver Twist. Now, the same very skilful adapters, Michael Platt and Pat Whymark have done another 19th century bad-times-to-good-times classic. Their conception and the performance of it by the SYT have produced a piece of theatre done by young people you won't see bettered.

Lots of highly imaginative swirling chorus work, music and colour abound, all serving the main purpose, which is telling the story. Michael Platt, who also directs and designs, and Pat Whymark, who also composes the music, are natural stage storytellers. I've seen adaptations of novels that are plot bound. Not this, but then plots aren't stories. Here we are led through the essential themes and follow the developing characters.


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We see the fight by a feisty woman for her own independent voice, we see both hypocritical and misguided religion at work, class discrimination with which, as a penniless orphan, Jane has constantly had to battle. We also see love and forgiveness.

We're taken along Jane's journey. The bullied and abused child, the hard and oppressive school where she is made to stand on a stool and be called a liar. Her oppressors, her aunt and then the corrupt head teacher are made to be all the more dominating and villainous by being up on stilts. There's the typhus epidemic at the unsanitary school where her friend dies in her arms - then comes her time as a teacher, the move to be a governess and the Gothic part of the tale involving Rochester.

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The production uses three Janes - Martha Loader, Maria Louis and Rose Lucas (all good) who, interestingly stay around so that they can reflect on events from different stages of Jane's life.

The Rochester sections reach new heights. From the moment he appears Aaron Wilson's Byronic Rochester is dark, brooding, and tortured by his secret - the mad destructive wife, Bertha, (a suitable distracted and explosive Nancy Smith) cooped up in the attic.

On what is a simple set, a staircase and some flame coloured drapes, all the cinematic action sequences, including the disastrous fire in which Thornfield burns down, Bertha dies and Rochester is blinded are done by the cast with chorus mime, movement and drapes.

Convincing, disciplined and exciting it all is, littered with confident performances. A splendid show.

Ivan Howlett

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