Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Still, Small Voice

I had every intention of going to see Dr Vesna Goldsworthy give a talk at Kingston University today about her fascinating memoir Chernobyl Strawberries. I really did. But it was scheduled for a Saturday morning, for God’s sake, and neither body nor brain was particularly willing.

It’s a shame as Goldsworthy’s book is quite brilliant. One of the most perceptive and interesting books I’ve read about what it means to be a Serb, and though its twin themes are cancer and civil war, it’s never bleak. I reviewed it last year for, Mark Thwaite’s engrossing literary blog site. For a more objective look at a similar subject, With Their Backs To The World: Portraits From Serbia by Asne Seierstad is also worth a look

I’ve gone way off topic; the reason for this post (and possibly the reason for my oversleeping) was yesterday’s opening night of Shared Experience’s production of Jane Eyre at the Trafalgar Studios. I’ve been looking forward to this for some time. I saw After Mrs Rochester, Shared Experience’s play based on Wide Sargasso Sea and the life of its author Jean Rhys, a couple of years ago and was familiar with the company’s layered, psychoanalytical approach.

Many of the same traits and techniques make a reappearance here – in fact this production actually predates After Mrs Rochester. Director Polly Teale once again has adult actors playing children (and in some cases animals) but the main, and defining device, is the constant onstage presence of Bertha Mason, played by Myriam Archarki, moaning and rolling in the attic, and the suggestion that she and Jane are not dissimilar in spirit, that Bertha represents the passion that Jane has had to suppress in order to survive as a plain but intelligent woman in Victorian society.

This approach is occasionally heavy-handed – and the play inevitably races through the scenes from Jane’s childhood – but Monica Dolan’s spiky and emotive performance as Jane holds things together and James Clyde makes a suitably shaggy and caddish Rochester. It makes me want to run straight back to the novel and re-read it.

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