A city under the harsh, repressive blanket of a winter that saw New Year’s Eve colder than both the surface of the North Pole and the planet Mars is the ideal locale to mount a theatre production of Charlotte Brontë’s Gothic classic Jane Eyre.
This month, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre presents Julie Beckman’s stage adaptation of the 1847 novel. Beckman read the original masterpiece as a young person, but says it took entering the world of theatre to think more about the stories that mattered to her.
Her passion centres on the strength and depth of the title character, which she says outmatches the leads of Brontë’s contemporaries. Beckman says the social obstacles of characters like Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett are nothing compared to Eyre’s suffering.
“The strength and capacity to find her own independence is at a really deep level,” Beckman says.
Tim Campbell, who plays Edward Rochester, Eyre’s love interest, says he is most captivated by Jane Eyre herself.
“The Gothic stuff exists, the love story exists, but Jane, I’ve been struck by the proto-feminist that Jane Eyre is.”
Ey’re struggles aren’t that much different than anyone facing alienation today, and she triumphs where her surrounding conditions pose the greatest threat.
“She comes to essentially find herself, she learns how to give love even though she received so little growing up,” Beckman says.
Beckman and Campbell share Rochester’s love and respect for Eyre.
“Despite being dealt horrible trauma, her spirit is never broken,” Campbell says. “She has a beautiful way of looking at the world, that’s why my character Rochester loves her. She’s such a singular person. She’s a hero. She’s a hero of the highest order.”
Beckman says such heroism was striking at the time, when Eyre had so few models to look up to.
To offer the audience the best way into the story, Beckman focused on the novel’s narration, in which Eyre addresses the reader.
“The more direct relationship that the character of Jane can have with the audience, the more powerful it is,” Beckman says. “The novel is written where she directly addresses the reader. There is something very powerful about her speaking directly to the audience.”
Beckman first adapted Jane Eyre in 1999 for Seattle’s Book-It Repertory Theatre, which exclusively deals in adaptations.
“This particular adaptation utilizes many more of Charlotte Brontë’s words,” Beckman says. “It incorporates a lot of the narration in, as dialogue, making it more active. It’s a more vibrant experience than other versions.”