NORTH WEST ESSEX THEATRE GUILD ADJUDICATION - LITTLE WALTHAM DRAMA GROUP - JANE EYRE - MARY REDMAN

 

Thank you for asking me to adjudicate your fine production of this classic tale.

 

FRONT OF HOUSE

There was a super welcome by name from your three little maids from the youth group members who, to my delight, were dressed appropriately in housemaid's outfits. They also provided us with silver service for the interval and most politely said goodnight at the end as we left. This added enormously to setting up the atmosphere for the play, as did following the old theatrical custom of listing your cast members in the programme with their titles and not just their names. The programme itself was large, very informative, even giving details of a servant's life, the fate of orphans, Bronte's life and the music used in the production. It was also plentifully and appropriately illustrated. I loved the extra touch of the wedding announcement for "Jane Eyre" in real life. I noticed that you had given up putting advertising in the programme, I hope your supporters have only been put to one side temporarily for reasons of space. The programme cover echoed the production poster with its silhouette of the lovers and used colour very effectively.

 

OVERALL IMPRESSION

This was an excellent attempt at a play which made great demands, especially on the actors playing the two leading characters.

 

DIRECTION

This version of the famous novel tells the central love story faithfully but very directly and clearly, without extraneous material such as the St John Rivers episode. Your cast started immediately at a good pace with extremely good interaction between the two chief characters. There was a good bit of melodrama with Mrs R's attempted stabbing in scene 2 which was excellently handled. The tensions that had been created by the, end of Act I were strong and made a good end to the act. The Act it scene 1 revelation and the love scene were beautifully handled and delicately acted. As a director you had a great eye for detail and blocked your cast with a good feeling for stage pictures. I loved the effect of the gloved hand feeling its way along the corridor ahead of Mr R's first entrance in Act III after the fire. You had also used background music with sensitivity and care to increase atmosphere at moments of heightened drama. Even your curtain call was superbly choreographed and still in character which is always a good thing in my book because it keeps the carefully built up atmosphere of the whole production. On the minus side were a few things such as needing to keep Mr R's shouting to a minimum. I realise that it was his first major role like this, but it didn't add anything to the sum of the character he was playing. This

production has clearly proved that LWDG has the acting capacity to play a period drama, but may I suggest some voice classes or workshops to work on eradicating Essex diphthongs and raising the social class of speech for upper class characters? With period drama, unless you are going to be playing one of the lower orders or a character role, you really do need something approaching an RP accent to be convincing.

 

STAGE MANAGEMENT

Your efficiency was very impressive with promptly executed curtains, some swift scene changing - especially Act I scene 1 to 2, while the Act III bell was spot on. Unfortunately the drawing room door flew open unexpectedly in Act 11 and on more than one occasion some floorboards were creaking offstage so we could follow people's progress around backstage.

 

LIGHTS

The basic level of lighting as softly atmospheric appropriate to a period drama. The Act 1 scene 2 level followed the candle lighting well as levels rose to accommodate the increasing number of candles. p Prompt blackouts at ends of scenes stopped the tensions created on stage from dissipating. However, on the contrary the final blackout of lights was very effectively held slightly for a few seconds after the last line which worked well theatrically speaking. I did notice that the fire was out in Act III but it then revived afterwards for some reason.

 

SOUND

The quiet, recorded piano music set the scene well before the play started but it also was used to great effect by building it up with the build up of passions on stage in later scenes. There were also effective horses hooves and a carriage, door knocking, and church bells. While Jane's ".playing" was at the right level for "a little" performing capacity, "Blanche" definitely sounded recorded. It was unfortunate that we could hear the click of the tape recorder clearly too.

 

SET AND PROPS

,You had created a superb set which looked solidly built with its red "flocked" wallpaper and dodo decorations, red velvet curtains, framed pictures, and a good quality silver tea service. It had elegant furniture, including the bureau, cast iron fireplace, spindle staircase and the barely noticeable detail of the flickering fire. You had provided some good heavy luggage and a silver drinks tray. I was especially impressed with the clever way you had arranged the set change for Act III where the staircase had gone and the room looked very different.

 

COSTUMES

These were excellent ranging from small things like Mrs F's lace cap to the fact that it was good to see that Jane's dress was properly corseted

and hooped according to the period. Mr R's riding outfit was very smart although the trousers, not being breeches made for riding, would have been very uncomfortable on an actual horse because of their bagginess. It also looked as though tall as he is, his trousers and sleeves needed a bit of shortening. I do also feel that he would have worn morning dress for the "wedding" not evening tails which would have benefited from a clothes brush run over them after make-up had finished. Jane had a very pretty cream lace dress for this scene. Adele looked very pretty in her pink dress with pantaloons, while Mrs R had suitably exotic clothing. The men's evening dress was extremely elegant, however, Lady I needed a crinoline hoop. The colour co-ordination of Mrs F, Adele and Leah's cloaks and hats was very good to see. Mason's morning frock coat needed a stock or cravat but not a bow tie I feel. Jane last Act III dress was lovely.

 

MAKE-UP AND HAIR

Jane's neat hairstyle nicely underlined her grave character and Blanche's hair was beautifully dressed. As a contrast, Mrs R's demented wig was very effective and hid her face from the audience's view which added to the mystery of who she was. Mason's "wound" was very effective and you really went to town on Mr R's third act burns etc. Things I though needed correcting were that f felt that Lady I need ageing as the "mother" of Blanche and Mr R's facial make-up seemed not to blend into his neck when he was in profile.

 

CAST

Mrs Fairfax - You opened the play on a strong note and were particularly good at making the lines sound newly-minted and just thought of, which is a gift. Your diction was good with plenty of light and shade in your voice. Your physical deportment was also good. You were especially good at conveying the warmth and compassion of this woman.

 

Leah - A bright little person, the perfect servant, who handled the onstage electric candle lighting and its tricky timing problems with apparent ease. I loved your delight in Act III when everything turned out happily in the end.

 

Jane - Congratulations on carrying off your first major dramatic role with such economy of style and such grace. This was a very, very impressive piece of work in a role which appeared to fit you like a glove. You really built up your character as the drama unfolded. Your elegant but appropriately modest bearing and calm nature, backed by good deportment (and corseting really does help with this aspect) were just right for this character who was accustomed to blending in with the wallpaper and not attracting too much attention to herself as befitted her station in life. At the same time, your Jane had the necessary strong spirit and character to sustain her through adversity. By scene 2 she was

really coming alive as the character relaxed in her new surroundings and she stood her ground well with the gruff Mr R. As an actor you listened well to others, acting and reacting to every line. As well as bringing out Jane's innate dignity, I loved your delicate reaction to Mr R's putting his arm around her in Act II scene 1.

 

Adele - You created a pert little creature of great charm in a very confident performance. You were also required to have a good try at an authentic accent when speaking French, but I thought that your Franglais accent was even better.

 

Mr Rochester - Your first, silent appearance was full of stage presence. In this demanding role your distinguished bearing and stillness of this initial appearance were very impressive. The first impression you gave on speaking was of being very angry and following this OTT anger which I found very difficult to accept, I preferred his subsequent slight mellowing. Mainly, starting on such a high note of anger was a risky strategy to adopt for an actor because it left you with nowhere to go later in the play as the drama and the tensions increased, such as the morning of the "wedding". It is always more effective and credible on stage to be quieter and understatement is often so much more telling than overdoing things. It's best to reserve the OTT for outbursts like your very effective reaction to the announcement of Mason's arrival which then made sense of the strong reaction to Mason himself. Another result was that you were playing with your voice at either high or low volume with very little middle and this gets wearing for an audience. Another . small I thing was

that on his second entrance in scene 2 his stick had been transferred to the opposite hand to that of the first entrance. Having battered

you with all this, your diction was excellent and you certainly brought out the character's inner conflicts and were good at his self-justification for his actions in Act II scene 2. One especially highlight for me was the control on "you found someone..." In Act IlI your stooped posture reflected your character's injuries and his broken spirit. You gave a good impression of blindness but the general level of this act was a bit hysterical for the above-mentioned reasons. You rescued this, however, with "I thought you'd gone..." which sounded very genuine because it was more quietly said. I hope you don't feel that I have wiped the floor with you but I wanted to try to encourage you to use what was a very good first attempt at a long, dramatic, leading man role as an educational experience. I would like to see you go on to do some other equally demanding roles of this quality.

 

Lady Ingram - This was a tiny role but you made her very gracious.

 

Blanche - What a nasty piece of work! I liked her flirtation with Mr R and her pretty, doll-like looks as well as the nicely pointed lines.

Lord Ingram - Such an elegant gentleman but an overbearing snob and spoilt brat. On your first appearance just occasionally your blokeish, pantomime persona broke through your otherwise impressive stillness. Of course, when you reappeared drunk, this was appropriate.

 

Mason - An honest performance spoken with sincerity. There was a good thoughtful reaction to Mrs R's wedding morning appearance and your listened well to others. You also suffered effectively after the attack by Mrs R.

 

Briggs - Your character had a suitable gravitas for the bearer of dreadful news although perhaps your body was a bit too tense. You were even more effective and human in Act Ill when informing Mr R of Jane's history.

 

Mrs Rochester - This was a very good, highly effective set of appearances with a cackling, menacing laugh and some really vicious fighting.

 

CONCLUSIONS

As a team and especially your two leading performers appearing in their first major roles this was a highly praiseworthy effort which audience and adjudicator alike enjoyed enormously. Great lengths had been gone to to make the atmosphere as authentic as possible and I think that LVVDG has very promising future in period drama.

MARY M REDMAN June 2 1998