Theatre review: Jane Eyre: An Autobiography is an outstanding production
Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, Starring Rebecca Vaughan, a 2017 Christchurch Arts festival presentation, The Great Hall, The Christchurch Arts Centre until September 8.
In repose Rebecca Vaughan's face is benign, quietly humorous but otherwise unremarkable. That is until she steps on stage to launch her solo performance as one of literature's greatest heroines. By the end of 90 minutes you recognise that what you have just witnessed is a remarkable performance by an equally remarkable actor.
In this adaptation by writer and director Elton Townend Jones, Vaughan takes Charlotte Bronte's sprawling 1847 romance Jane Eyre and distils it, all 38 chapters, into a potent retelling of the English lit classic
Admittedly, Jane Eyre: An Autobiography provides Vaughan with not merely one but an entire cast of meaty roles into which to sink her acting teeth. But solo performances are treacherous beasts capable of savaging even the most confident of individuals.
There's nowhere to hide and no one else to hide you when you confront the audience alone. For Vaughan, outwardly demure in a simple grey Victorian dress, this means occupying a stage with only a solitary and very small couch for company. The rest is up to her and some very skilful lighting. Nothing and nobody else can help her.
The other potential difficulty with Jane Eyre is that everyone imagines, or likes to imagine, that they know the story inside out. There is always an invisible sense of collective ownership. Vaughan and Jones, however, open up new dimensions, revealing Jane not as some vapid Victorian victim or a 19th century proto-feminist but someone strengthened by experience and hardship.
This Jane Eyre is not an easy personality but she is a woman of character and steely determination. When Vaughan utters the final line "I married him!" we share her heartfelt cry of affirmative triumph.
She injects a similar strength and credibility into all the roles from the flawed hero Mr Rochester to the sadistic Calvinist overseers of the Lowood Institution. From beginning to end, Vaughan fills the stage with an elegantly expressive, flawlessly delivered and utterly focused presence.
As an outstanding evening of theatre, this is a production which definitely should not be missed.