articles and reviews

Jane Eyre & Wuthering Heights -Butterfly Psyche -Review

Posted on February 8, 2018 at 5:10 AM
Wuthering Heights

Adaptations are a contentious issue. The writer of an adaptation faces an array of dilemmas: How can he/she tell this story without alienating those who have not read the original? How can he/she tell this story from a new perspective? And (most pertinently), how can one effectively translate written narrative into dramatic (and visible) action? Accomplishing all of this is by no means a small feat. At best, it takes an excruciating amount of thought, time and tenacity. At worst, it is an utter waste of time. For everyone. However, when all of these are considered and well executed, it is a rare and very special find indeed. Wuthering Heights by Butterfly Psyche and Livewire Theatre is certainly one of those treasures, adapted for stage by Dougie Blaxland with a text that draws upon the art and energy of simple storytelling. Blaxland holds true to the original format by choosing to present this story from the perspective of Nelly (a maid to both Catherine's) and Lockwood (a new tenant of Heathcliff's). He asserts the theatricality of this concept by heightening the intensity and commitment with which they tell each other (and at times the audience) their anecdotes, thus resulting in a clear, elegantly structured and fluid narrative.


From the writing, to the minimal casting and set design (or lack thereof); this production brilliantly demonstrates the power of economy. The two actors, Alison Campbell and Jeremy Fowlds, playing Nelly and Lockwood, take on multiple and convincing roles as they tell each other their stories of Wuthering Heights and its residents. The set is practically bare, opening up limitless possibilities and avoiding the restrictions which may come with a naturalistic set. Campbell and Fowld's engagement with the story they are telling is masterful and driven with a great deal of energy. There is a particularly strong scene in which Cathy tells Nelly of her intention to Marry Edgar, as Heathcliff has been demoted to too low a social ranking for her to marry him now, even though she loves him and states that he is more herself than she is.


Campbell plays both characters, switching effortlessly from one to the other with clarity and precision. Throughout the first part of the story (up until Cathy's death), the character interactions are strong. Yet during the second half, whilst acting the various characters of the play embroiled in Heathcliff's revenge and dynasty, I couldn't help but feel a drop in their connection toward one another. Heathcliff is far more passive in this section too with no real sign of his malice, but I can't help but feel that this would have added a welcome catalyst for the actors to work off in the second part of this play.


Jazz Hazelwood's direction is sharp, well-realised and manages to expertly lead the actors through the complexity of their many shifts and character changes with success and vivacity. She navigates a concept, which could have easily slipped into absurdism into an elegant, engaging example of storytelling.


This is a play that will please even the most avid lovers of the book, whilst holding its own as a brilliant production in its own right. A thoroughly enjoyable and captivating piece of theatre that held the audience's attention from start to Finish. I look forward to seeing more from both Butterfly Psyche and Livewire Theatre.


(c) Naia Headland-Vanni


Arnos Vale Cemetary, Bristol

Produced by Butterfly Psyche.

Seen on the 9/10/2014.

Jane Eyre

Much like his Wuthering Heights adaptation, Dougie Blaxland composes a succinct, engaging and elegant piece of theatre with Jane Eyre. Fluidly weaving Eyre’s past with her present (a strong decision); he manages to capture the superstitious, gothic tone and sense of mystery within this tale with great strength. By sustaining the role of narrator (one of many taken on by Alison Campbell), one could be led rapidly and effortlessly through the stages of this heroine’s turbulent life, without sacrificing Jane’s characteristic vulnerability and intensity. Here is a writer of technical brilliance, with a rare gift for bringing classics to life with loyalty, energy and intrigue.


Jazz Hazelwood directs this play with a finite eye for the nuances of characterisation. Accentuating each shift of character and scene with clarity and distinction, leaving no crevice overlooked - she charges each dramatic moment with textured and familiar tones.


Campbell leads this show with a performance worthy of any west-end theatre, taking on every character as well as being the sole storyteller. Losing herself in dramatisations, whilst ensuring that she holds the audience in her story, she fills the stage with the energy of several performers. Campbell achieves something close to magical with this performance, often leading us to forget that the stage is (virtually) empty and convincing us that her multiple character interactions have coexistent lives of their own. The chemistry and romantic energy between Jane and Rochester was tantalising. The fact that they are both played by the same actor is astonishing.


With perfect simplicity, the technical team conjure a clear and strong sense of time and place, using lighting to signify its own specific (and often eerie) atmosphere, taking us through the sombre phases of Jane Eyre's past.


Perhaps, one thing missing from this production was the looming menace of Bertha which could have added a powerful intensity to the lead-up to their doomed day of matrimony. A description of her first, obscured sighting and a dramatic scene in which Rochester's bed has been set alight, certainly introduce us to her unexplained presence; but it isn't until the night before Jane's wedding that we witness any unease on her part, which doesn't quite hold our suspicions with the strength of Bronte's masterpiece.


A fantastic piece of theatre and one that I could not recommend strongly enough.


(c) Naia Headland-Vanni 2014


Jane Eyre by Butterfly Psyche at Redmaids Theatre, Bristol


'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Brontë

Adapted by: Dougie Blaxland

Directed by: Jazz Hazelwood

Starring: Alison Campbell


Butterfly Psyche

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