Review: Jane Eyre @ Cotham Parish Church ★ ★ ★ ★

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By Anna Sharp, Third Year Classical Studies

Brave Mirror’s long-awaited production of Jane Eyre is an atmospheric and ambitious return to in-person theatre. Performed in Cotham Parish Church, this unique setting offers an inventive space to explore Bronte’s classic as a coming-of-age story.

Elsa Rae Llewelyn delivers a phenomenal portrayal of Jane that is captivating and compelling throughout. Llewelyn’s performance anchors the piece, she captures Jane’s commitment to justice, unwavering honesty and emotional resilience beautifully.

Her performance is bolstered by the slick and skilful ensemble whose carefully choreographed movements create bold visual storytelling. The use of lighting, sound and narration is effective, with the depiction of Jane in the red room proving especially powerful.

Cast pictured in Cotham Parish Church | Courtesy of Natalie Beddows

The show is at its best when it explores Jane as a character and the female allies that shape her into the woman she becomes. Jane Eyre is widely considered one of the first feminist novels, and this production emphasises the theme of female emancipation. Ella Hughes-Reeder and Holly Bancroft are particularly impressive in their huge variety of roles. Both demonstrate versatility and believability in the array of characters they portray.

The storytelling is clear, though sometimes sparse and lacking a point of view in Jamie Saul’s adaptation. The essence of the characters is conveyed but sometimes the nuance is lost in this stripped back retelling. Unfortunately, the iconic romance between Jane and Mr Rochester is somewhat taken for granted, their relationship is not fully explored, and feels rushed at times. While this allows for further exploration of Jane’s character, it’s unfortunate that this comes at the expense of the romance.

The costuming is a little imprecise, which confuses the style of the piece. Some costume seems representative and almost Brechtian, for example the veils, whereas some is more traditional period costume, like Mr Rochester’s outfit. Both styles could work, but not simultaneously.

Courtesy of Natalie Beddows

The second half of the production does not always live up to the dramatic potential created in act one. However, the piece still reaches a moving and satisfying conclusion. Act Two introduces singing, which seems to come out of the blue. However, it is effective and it offers a folksy twist that I think could’ve been explored further. While some of the potential in this production is unfulfilled, it is clear that all involved do have talent in spades.

This production has been a long time in the making, and the hard work from all the cast and crew is evident in the piece. All involved should be really proud of what they’ve accomplished, particularly during the pandemic. If you’re back in Bristol ahead of Welcome Week and are looking to get back into theatre, this show is well worth the watch.

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Featured Image: Natalie Beddows


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