Arts: Theatre: Eyre the twain shall meet

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The Independent Culture
SHARED EXPERIENCE'S bold, peppy Bronte adaptation, back in London after two years, is built around an idea of utmost simplicity. It renders explicit the sub-textual relation in Jane Eyre between Bertha, Mr Rochester's attic-confined Creole wife, and Jane, his class-bound salvation.

Bertha becomes the embodiment of the repressed aspects of Jane's own personality, a raging "id" whose presence is felt throughout. It may seem like an obvious stroke, but it's an inspired one.

The habitual let-down with period dramatisations is that they resemble little more than edited highlights. Polly Teale's version, using eight actors,points you back to the original text while holding true to its own, psychologically telling theatrical style.

We first see Penny Layden's Jane and Harriette Ashcroft's Bertha larking in giddy, childish symbiosis around a bare-bones set consisting of stairs leading to a derelict room. Our heroine is in a drab, slate-grey dress; the other is in an exotic red frock, which bunches up as she scuttles and dances, mouth deliriously agape as she goads Jane on to let rip. Teale re-imagines the episode in which the orphan is banished to the red room by her affronted aunt as a moment of internal reckoning. It's not the sight of a ghost that makes Jane faint but the necessary dismissal of her more sensual, rebellious self.

Thereafter, Mrs Rochester howls, moans and jigs her pelvis in a grotesque display of sexual hunger, while below, the older Jane twitches in sympathy. Her hands flap around her face and body; her head jerks violently as she struggles to keep a lid on her feminist anger. Layden gives an extraordinary performance. You see why Sean Murray's raffish, Rochesterwould hanker after her prim purity and why she would become so mistrustful of him.

A production that so deftly captures the novel's confused heart should have no such trouble winning over sceptics.

Dominic Cavendish

To 24 Dec, (0171-836 6111)