Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Friday 10th June, 2016
Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel has been adapted by Northern Ballet for their own purposes and, intrigued to find out how you translate something that is entirely words into an art form that has no words at all, I settled into my seat.
Choreographer and director Cathy Marston blends classical moves with contemporary dance, creating some effective and succinct storytelling – although I will state that if you’re unfamiliar with the plot you might find some scenes baffling. The synopsis in the programme will keep you up-to-speed, so don’t let lack of balletic knowledge (Guilty!) or ignorance of the book (Not guilty, but it’s been a while) put you off this excellent show.
All the highlights of the eponymous heroine’s story are here: her tormented schooldays, the death of her best friend, becoming a governess, meeting Mr Rochester and falling for him… The action moves on at quite a lick.
Antoinette Brooks-Daw is Young Jane, enduring ill treatment and grief – and expressing them beautifully. Hannah Bateman takes over the role – and is no less graceful and expressive. It is her scenes with Rochester (the strikingly handsome Javier Torres) that are the highlights and the beating heart of this production. Torres is an electrifying presence. Costume designer Patrick Kinmonth dresses him in a tall top hat and a full-length greatcoat. Torres stalks around, whipping the stage with his riding crop. He uses his leg to direct his servants and to keep Jane in her place. It is an expression of power, emphasising his sleekness, at times equine, at others phallic. Together, Rochester and Eyre are breath-taking. He does a thing where his foot knocks against hers. It’s a repeated gesture that crops up a couple of times. Later (SPOILER ALERT!) when he is blind, Jane uses the foot-knock on him so he knows it is her. It’s a touching and dramatically satisfying moment.
Victoria Sibson claws her way around as the deranged Bertha from the attic, and there is some amusing character-dancing from Pippa Moore as literal busybody Mrs Fairfax.
Doing a lot of the work is the music – compiled and composed by Philip Feeney – plenty of sinuous woodwinds, agitated strings and yearning horns. Conducted by John Pryce Jones, the orchestra, provides the aural accompaniment to what is otherwise a purely visual show. It is gorgeous stuff, complementing the action and augmenting the emotion.
Patrick Kinmouth’s set has a backdrop of a bleak landscape, crisscrossed by paths like scars. Painted cloths are used as flats, giving loose impressions of place: buildings, countryside… The monochrome of the set is foiled by instances of colour, in the costumes and the lighting (courtesy of Alastair West).
A treat to see and to hear, the production builds to a final scene that is moving and sweepingly romantic. A show that gives us accessible, affecting ballet and a story well told; a triumph for Northern Ballet.