Theatre: Reader, you'll adore it

Jane Eyre New Ambassador's, London Peggy for You Hampstead, London Our Father Almeida, London

How could they do it? Shared Experience's version of Jane Eyre, adapted and directed by Polly Teale, is so fresh and astute that it does what even the most faithful literary adaptation rarely achieves. After nearly three hours of transfixing theatre, it guarantees that rereading the novel will be a let-down.

Teale's adaptation begins with young Jane (Penny Layden) reading of Arctic wastes and tropical warmth, symbolically shadowed by a red-dressed Harriette Ashcroft. After banishment to the Red Room, Jane submits to her guardian's authority; Ashcroft, her rebellious spirit, is left in confinement. But when Jane enters the employ of Mr Rochester (a smouldering Sean Murray), her flashes of impetuousness - followed by Layden' s cartoonish, ashamed grimaces - and her body-shuddering desires are paralleled by Ashcroft, who writhes and wails in the rickety upstairs room as Bertha. Rochester's first wife, the madwoman in the attic, becomes one with Jane's alter ego. Under lock and key, the passions torment their keeper ever more intensely.

Shared Experience's visual economy is also a playful delight. The five other actors take on the rest of the roles: Michael Matus recreates Brocklehurst as a sinister, top-hatted ringmaster, then scampers and pants as Pilot the dog; and Octavia Walter's pirouetting, precocious Adele deserves the fly-swatting disdain of Blanche Ingram (the versatile Hannah Miles). Anchoring it all is plain Jane - but Layden's commanding performance is anything but dull.

For those in the know, Peggy for You, Alan Plater's homage to the theatrical agent Peggy Ramsay, must be a nostalgic joy, the impersonation of a larger- than-life legend by Maureen Lipman in a play littered with literary in- jokes. Plater's play is a thoroughly enjoyable portrait of loveable but frustrating eccentricity. But it's also a perceptive analysis of the symbiotic relationship between writers and agents, while the confrontation between a less sympathetic Peggy and a disgruntled Northern client in the second half throws up many questions about the ideals of art and the demands of living.

Lipman is a dominant presence, but it's difficult to watch this most recognisable and dependable comic actress do her stuff without thinking "That's Maureen Lipman. She's good at mimicry, so that must be a Peggyism." And she has such a range of tics and gestures to call on from a throat- clearing growl to a lolloping walk, as if trying to flick off her flip- flops with each step. Yet Lipman also gives the rest of the cast room to shine, particularly Richard Platt as the writer driven to the unthinkable - the rejection of Peggy's patronage.

Edna O'Brien's Our Father is set during a family reunion at a big house in Seventies rural Ireland. It's reasonable to expect a tyrannous, maybe alcoholic father; a mother who's stoical, possibly religious; grown-up children, each resenting their return; and a row about land, perhaps. O'Brien obliges, and then some.

There are a few moments of effective unease. While the family sip their welcoming drinks, Jamie O'Shea (David Troughton, looking like a cross between a bulldog and a navvy) violently bundles his wife (a fragile Stella McCusker) out the back door. The children fidget in a chilly atmosphere of debilitating acceptance. Yet when Ma's let back in, they toast their parents' anniversary as if she'd just been out picking parsley.

Director Lynne Parker gets the best she can out of a blameless cast. While the (shaky) focus is on Emer, the youngest daughter, the other siblings are only required to declaim their grievances, then go to sleep or to the pub. And as Emer, the sylph-like Aisln McGuckin struggles under the burden not just of victimhood but, as a writer home from London, what can only be inferred to be her creator's autobiographical baggage.

`Jane Eyre' : New Ambassadors, WC1 (0171 836 6111) to 24 December. `Peggy for You': Hampstead, NW3 (0171 722 9301) to 15 January. ` Our Father': Almeida, N1 (0171 359 4404) to 23 December

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there