|Jane Eyre and her Aunt Reed|
Author FH Townsend
Northern Ballet, Jane Eyre, Richmond Theatre. 1 June 2016
With one enormous break between 2004 and 2011 I have been following Northern Ballet ever since I returned to the North in 1985. The company has given us some lovely ballets over the years - Cinderella, A Christmas Carol, A Simple Man and, more recently, Madame Butterfly and A Midsummer Night's Dream. In my humble, rustic and simplistic opinion the company's golden age was 20 years ago. At least I thought so until this evening for tonight I saw them perform Jane Eyre at Richmond. I was reminded of their glory days which I never thought I would see again.
Cathy Marston has done wonders with this company. It is one of the best new ballets I have seen all year from any company and it is the best new work from Northern Ballet for many years if not decades. The story follows the novel pretty faithfully and the portrayal of several of the characters was just as I had imagined them when I first read the book as a child. In particular Adele danced beautifully by Rachael Gillespie and the first Mrs Rochester danced chillingly by Victoria Sibson. There was some very clever choreography and even cleverer direction, Especially effective was the flashback scene at the beginning of the performance where Jane's early life - related by Antoinette Brooks-Daw as young Jane - was echoed by adult Jane, Dreda Blow, behind a screen.
I was a little unsure about Philip Feeny's score at first because it sounded very like Schoenburg's for Wuthering Heights at first (or at least it did to me) but I warned to it especially in the second act. The discordance as Mrs Rochester advanced towards the altar was gripping. So, too, was the music for the duet as Rochester tried to rescue his mad first wife. I have not enjoyed everything that Feeney has composed in the past but this time he has created a masterpiece.
Great music was equalled by great sets and costumes. Patrick Kinmonth's backdrops reminded me of low Pennine hills and dry stone walls. His costumes, particularly Adele's and Mrs Rochester's, helped project the story.
Hannah Bateman had tweeted that Blow was lovely in the title role and she was right. Blow is a fine dancer but I have never seen her dance better than she did tonight. Javier Torres was an excellent Rochester. He showed arrogance as the squire but also vulnerability and sensitivity in his reverses. It was a surprise to me that he can do vulnerability as he commands attention on stage and off but crouched in a foetal position clutching his eyes he nearly drew tears. Jessica Morgan was a horrid Aunt Reed and Mlindi Khulashe a fearsome master.
Last night and the day before will be the ballet's only showing in London. A pity because the house was full and the audience was appreciative. Aylesbury will be its next stop and then a tour of the Midlands. I hope it will be revived soon. I should love to see it again.