Jane Eyre was the production on Saturday from Garsington and Cuddesdon Community Theatre Group, set in the chancel of St Mary's Church, Garsington. Though the space was heavy with church furniture, still it permitted the eye to travel on beyond the action to the altar and the E window of the church, with its splendid stained glass panels of 1883. The church was cosy and full, and the welcome before and after the show, especially from Janet and Richard Betteridge, was exceedingly warm.
A little burst of electronic, spooky music got us under way, appropriately for a dark November night and for our 90 mins Victorian Gothic tale. After a couple of rather bitty scenes we were plunged into the world of the orphan and pariah Jane in the so-called care of first her relative, the hard-faced Mrs Reed (a suitably self-serving Annie Wright), and then her grimly sententious male counterpart, the clergyman Mr Brocklehurst (Chris Wright, a distinguished presence in top hat and clerical garb, though perhaps lacking a little in sheer nastiness). After all, once the hypocrisy is stripped away, what he's engaged in is child abuse, and he would have fitted snugly into the corrupted world of Dickens' Oliver Twist from 10 years earlier. It was nicely ironic that he and Mrs Reed strutted beneath two sculpted guardian angels high on the outer corners of the chancel, as it were commenting on the perverted guardianship on show below, and also that Jane and her friend Helen Burns cowered in front of that stained glass whose centrepiece is a crucifixion scene.
When the plot moved on to Thornfield Hall and the looming presence of its owner, Mr Rochester, the dimly lit set with its dark oak fittings conveyed a suitably creepy atmosphere. The relationship between governess and master is of course the heart and soul of the thing. Laura Everett had the perfect look for the part, matching that of Joan Fontaine in the 1943 Robert Stevenson/Orson Welles film: tallish, in long, grey dress with hair coiled becomingly, she demonstrates the virtue of self-reliance in a world of adversity, both in the life experiences of her first 19 years and in her uneasy status, neither servant nor lady at Thornfield Hall and suffering the belittling of her by Mr Rochester's friend Blanche Ingram (played with notable hauteur by Maggie Hardwick). Ms Everett also showed Jane's perseverance in striving for the realisation of her desires. If she was a little statuesque, the somewhat cramped set did not really lend itself to easy movement. As Mr Rochester her brooding lover, I thought Jonathan Kay grew into the part. While in his early scenes he seemed surprisingly well-behaved and chipper, his passion for Jane and repudiation of Blanche were performed with gusto, and his final scenes when disabled by fire were touching.
The period costumes sourced by Phil Benner and assistants were a constant delight. Of those players who particularly caught my eye, Anton Renouf as Jane's repressed cousin Rivers made a valiant stab at the awkward role, though I felt that the entire sequence in Act II that succeeds Jane's flight from Thornfield Hall passed us by in a rush, and might with advantage have been omitted. Maggie Hardwick doubling as the confined Mrs Rochester need give way to no one in the piercing scream department. It's interesting how by Charlotte Bronte's time the reasons for the Gothic supernatural/mysterious events - here the madwoman in the attic and associated happenings - were no longer inexplicable phenomena, but the consequence of human actions. The versatile Chris Wright was a carrot-crunching countryman, and John Hall impressed as the fussing wedding clergyman - in an especially effective scene - and earlier as the doctor,.
This was a real collective effort, with 28 named parts including child actors, plus a numerous backstage crew, all rowing together. Director Angharad Jeffery had a big job on her hands pulling the whole skein of threads together, and doubtless it's down to her that there was a palpable sense of joie de vivre in Garsington on Saturday night.