Chatsworth Players triumph with Jane Eyre

Jane-EyreARTSBEAT REVIEW: Watching a production by the Chatsworth Players is not simply an evening at the theatre – there is just so much more.

Not only do you have the honour of being seated in a little gem of a theatre, but you can enjoy pre-show and interval drinks milling around the art in Chatsworth House’s Sculpture Gallery, and to top it all you are treated to the bonhomie of your host Sylvia Jackson.

The charismatic director who founded the Chatsworth Players is very much a part of the whole package and the gusto with which she greets you and introduces the play confirms what you will have already guessed – it is going to be a very special evening indeed.

And so it was with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, performed at the Duke of Devonshire’s tiny Victorian Theatre last week. The production was a triumph for the players.

The book has been adapted many times for film and stage since it was published in 1847 and this lovely version, picked by Sylvia for her troupe, centres around the passion between the brooding Mr Rochester played by Ed Kelly and plain Jane (Kate Stuart).

This version of the story starts as Jane arrives as the new governess at Thornfield Hall allowing for most of the action to take place in the library avoiding the necessity for frequent scene changes.

Every inch of space is used to good effect with some of the dialogue actually being projected from unseen rooms in the wings.

For those unfamiliar with the story Jane is orphaned at an early age and taken in by an uncle, after his death she is abused by her aunt and dispatched to the squalid Lowood School.

Eventually she takes the job of governess to the ward of the wealthy, brooding Edward Rochester who lives a mysterious life complete with a mentally ill wife kept locked up in a closed-off wing of the estate.

Jane finds herself attracted to the ultimately decent Rochester but his past catches up with him and she is forced to flee heartbroken.

She is rescued by a kindly parson and later inherits a fortune from an uncle. But she cannot forget Thornfield or Rochester and a year later returns to find him blinded in a fire, which killed his insane wife.

Sylvia’s reputation as a talented director is such that she has sufficient support from amateur actors across the region and does not need to double up on roles.

Her cast of 16 included some fine cameo performances – not least those by Len Wilding, who played an extremely convincing Reverend Wood, and the two maids Sue Dixon, as Leah, and Val Booth, as Hannah.

Val’s extensive experience on the stage shone through as soon as she stepped in front of the lights close to the end of the play.

At the opposite end of the experience scale were Rachel Haslam as Lady Ingram and nine-year-old Penelope Stuart, as Mr Rochester’s ward Adele Varens.

Despite never having been on the stage before Rachel gave a confident performance as the pushy, posh mother trying to off-load her daughter on to the rich Rochester – and I am sure we will be seeing more of her at Chatsworth.

Young Penelope has performed at school in the past, but was making her debut appearance for the Chatsworth Players. She rose to the challenge with a delightful display of innocence and seemed to relish being in front of an audience.

Putting to one side the two lead characters, the star of this production had to be the indomitable Ros Ogrizovic as housekeeper Mrs Fairfax.

She has worked many times with Sylvia and the rapport the two have built up was very apparent with a sparky performance that lit up the stage.

However the secret to the success of this adaption of the famous book was probably the casting of the two main characters. Not only did they look the part, but they had quite clearly taken on the persona of Jane and Mr Rochester and had committed themselves to the roles.

They were completely immersed in their characters, which made their passion and heartbreak all the more believable and brought the story to life on the stage.

Behind me in the audience one couple declared the production much better than a professional version they had seen earlier in the year – and that is high praise indeed.

The rest of the superb cast were: Jenny Bland, the maniac, Pat Bell, Grace Poole, Robert Alan-Haven, Lord Ingram, Sarah Isabel Penney, Blanche Ingram, Chris Gale, Briggs, Mel Fido-Dexter, Richard Mason, Shirley Bowler, Diana Rivers and Peter Wilmot, St John Rivers.

The production team were: Richard Fido-Dexter, stage manager, Simon Edmonds, prompt, Mary Fry, Dorothy Bayes and Mel Fido-Dexter, props, Peter Bowyer, lighting, Robert Alan-Haven, music, Pat Bell, costumes, Joan Hardman of East Lodge, furniture, George Dawn, Mensa Printers, printing, Kayleigh O’Brien and Chris Thacker of Tulip Florists, flowers and David Screen, PR and media.

The Chatsworth Players stage two productions a year and the next one in October will be Pygmalion from October 14-20.

If this show was anything to go by then the audience will be in for a wonderful evening of entertainment.

You have to book early to ensure a ticket. Jane Eyre was sold out well in advance.  Go to http://www.chatsworthplayers.com for more details.