This autumn, Blackeyed Theatre will be embarking on a nationwide tour of its latest production, a new adaptation of Jane Eyre. I caught up with writer Nick Lane to find out more about his version of Charlotte Brontë’s classic.
What attracted you to staging this particular story?
It’s simply a wonderful tale. I’d directed a version for Hull Truck six years ago by a friend of mine and, having re-read the book then in preparation for the gig, I was struck by how powerful Jane’s path was – and if it had made me feel that way in the 21st century, the effect on its readers when it was first published must have been seismic! Here’s a woman who, despite all the suffering, all the cruelty, all the heartbreak, remains true to her own heart and reveals to the reading world the importance and liberty contained within self-determination.
Looking again last year when I knew I was going to adapt it, I saw that aspect of the book of course, but there were all the other elements too – it’s funny, it’s tragic, in its depiction of societal positions and manners it’s satirical… and, of course, it’s really quite spooky. The challenge of finding ways to bring that to the stage with economy and fluidity… that sort of thing is very exciting to me. Really, though, I’m a romantic at heart and to get a chance to bring my take on one of the classic romances to the stage is irresistible.
How did you go about adapting Jane Eyre?
Ha! I can tell you what I’ve told other people who’ve asked this – very carefully! It’s my insecurity I’m sure, and no one else’s – certainly, I’ve been supported tremendously throughout the writing process – but never have I felt more aware of being a male writer than when I was bringing this most iconic female character from the book into the script I was writing. I knew I could put the adaptation together but if I got Jane wrong, if she didn’t act or feel like the character Charlotte Brontë created, I’d have failed.
I generally start with structure. Adrian and I discussed how many actors I’d have to play with and I noted down who would play what, how that would work for their journeys on and off the stage, how it might affect who would provide music for certain scenes and so on. I had an opening image in mind; I knew how I wanted to frame the story, and with the greatest guide ever in Charlotte Brontë, off I went.
And here’s when the jitters started. Not only had I directed my friend Laura’s terrific version in 2013 (so there was that to measure up to), and not only is it a novel revered globally for a variety of reasons – and, I’d say, particularly by women – it was also one of my mum’s favourite books. As a young girl she apparently vacillated between Mr. Rochester and Mr. Darcy as to which was the most romantic… and which of the romances was the most complete. That’s definitely not for me to say, but there was that too – my mum died in 1998 (so never got to see anything I’ve ever written on stage) and there was no way I wanted to disappoint her memory.
Fortunately for me I have a friend, Tabitha who – as well as being fiercely intelligent and super-honest as a person – reads Jane Eyre annually and, though she’d never profess to be so, is something of an expert on the subject. Such is her generosity that she looked over each draft once I completed them. My thought with each draft, then (and my fear, I guess), was, “Will Tabitha see Jane in what I’ve written?” I’m happy to say that she did, and from there I proceeded – still cautiously, for I know people see Jane in different ways, but with a growing confidence. Thanks, Tab
What can audiences expect from your production?
First and foremost, I hope the audience might expect a great night at the theatre because that’s what Adrian and I, along with the cast, the whole creative and backstage team and everyone involved with Blackeyed Theatre want for them. If the audience is new to the story then this is of paramount importance and it follows the high standards set and maintained by Blackeyed in the past. And for the audience members who are familiar with the source material, they can expect the romance and wit – not to mention some of the gothic sensibilities – of the book.
Why do you think Jane Eyre still appeals today?
It’s a hugely important novel – a novel of hope, of empowerment, of victory over those people and elements of ill-fortune that conspire against us… as important now as it was then it is also a novel that demands we see women not as objects to be admired, scorned or married off but as strong and independent equals.
Outside of its message of course – though the two are inextricable really – it’s a beautiful, painful romance told, with wit and tenderness, from the point of view of a character with an unbreakable spirit.
That’s why, I reckon. Well, that’s why for me. The truth about great literature is that you could ask one hundred fans of the novel the same question and get one hundred different answers… and they’d all be right.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the production?
I hope everyone has a good time. And if that means they leave moved to tears or laughing, or extolling the virtues of the cast, the music, the production as a whole… any of those things – I hope that they enjoy themselves above all else. From a writing perspective… I hope those who have read the book feel it in the adaptation, and – being a fan of the novel – I hope it tempts those that haven’t into getting hold of a copy and reading it for themselves. Then coming back again, and bringing their mates!
For more information visit http://www.blackeyedtheatre.co.uk/future-shows/jane-eyre/
Image: Alex Harvey-Brown