Or, what other people have said. 

Er, I realise this is rather a lot to read. However, if you have a few moments, have a little skim. Mostly they say nice things...

at the Rosemary Branch May 2016, then the Vera Fletcher Hall and the Jack Studio Theatre June 2016

Persuasion – Jack Studio Theatre, London
Writer: Jane Austen
Director: Bryony J. Thompson
Reviewer: Jon Wainwright, The Reviews Hub
Five Stars ★★★★
In one sense there are very few dramatic moments in this production: A little boy is hurt (the accident occurs offstage and the child is invisible in any case), there is a foolish jump off the Cobb at Lyme, Bath is visited. Oh, and Captain Wentworth, “without saying a word” assists Anne Elliot into a carriage. Jane Austen herself acknowledges this to be a “little circumstance” and yet, whether reading the novel or immersed in this utterly compelling production, we are caught up by its significance. It’s a moment that shapes her whole life, and it’s accomplished with remarkable economy. The Admiral and Mrs Croft are sitting on a large white box, Anne steps up on to a smaller white box, and our imagination does the rest.

Anne’s fatigue at this point allows Captain Wentworth to demonstrate that he is thinking of her, that he cares about her. There is nothing calculating about his actions (unlike those of another of her suitors, her cousin Mr William Elliot), and it does not cancel out the impression we have been building of her character. She is actually physically robust, unlike her younger sister Mary (“often a little unwell, and always thinking a great deal of her own complaints”), and thinks nothing of walking out in the rain. She’s also resourceful in a crisis, a quality noticed by Captain Wentworth. After Louisa is injured jumping off the steps, he remarks there is no one “so capable as Anne.”

Anne then pauses “a moment to recover from the emotion of hearing herself so spoken of”. This ought to be impossible to make work on stage, and yet it does. Rose McPhilemy as Anne Elliot and Philip Honeywell as Captain Wentworth deliver a masterclass in costume drama, in how to act with restraint while conveying the idea there is flesh and blood beneath the proper outward form. There is a telling description of William Elliot as someone who is polished but not open, with “never any burst of feeling” – the exact opposite of both Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth.

McPhilemy as Anne often has her arms straight down by her sides, in an apparently static pose, and she uses no overly demonstrative gestures. And yet she conveys a character and a mind constantly in motion, with feelings and emotions and an intelligence visible even when she has no lines. When Anne realises the possibility that Frederick loves her, despite having been rejected by her all those years before, Austen describes the moment as follows: “Her happiness was from within. Her eyes were bright and her cheeks glowed” – McPhilemy embodies this with great skill.

The story revolves around the two central characters, but this is not a claustrophobic romance. There are eighteen named parts shared by six actors, who create a richly evoked social world of family and friends. Expense may have been spared on dressing the set, but not the cast, who are all in elegant cream and silver-grey period costume. The practical difficulty is how to distinguish between the multiple roles with just voice and gesture and distinct facial expressions (there’s no time for costume changes – the actors are on stage all the time). Since neither McPhilemy nor Honeywell double up, the rest of the cast must average four characters each, and they do this very well. For example, for the stately decorum of Lady Russell, Sarita Plowman overlaps her hands in front of her; as Mrs Musgrove she smooths her skirts with a downward motion and, as Mrs Clay, she holds her hands up in a wonderfully silly and flirtatious way. Adam Elliott’s Charles Musgrove has a wide, affable mouth while his Mr Elliot bares his upper teeth in a small, contemptuous mouth. Tom Hartwell and Beatrice Rose are equally versatile, and all inhabit Austen’s language as if they’re used to speaking phrases like “she deprecated the connection” every day.

Bryony J. Thompson’s adaptation succeeds in distilling the novel to under two hours of performance and keeping the essential Austen. Each actor also delivers sections of the third-person narrative, which solves the practical issue of packing in a lot of character and plot information. One reason why it’s not as jarring as it might be for an actor to step out of character in this way is because they’re only half stepping out of, and half staying in character, in the spirit of the writer who pioneered free indirect speech (the technique whereby ostensibly third-person narrative takes on the flavour of the character being described).

The perennial appeal of Jane Austen’s story of Anne Elliot lies in the fact that we all experience the influence of others, and are persuaded towards, or away from, certain courses of action. In this version of the novel, we see the consequences of one such act of persuasion played out with great conviction. And while circumstances and conventions may change with each passing century, the universal truths of human nature remain as constant as the two lovers at the centre of this classic tale.

Review by Molly Miller, Female Arts
Four Stars ★★★★
Ever since I was introduced to Colin Firth in a wet shirt, I knew that Jane Austen was a woman after my own heart. Her writing has always appealed to me, and I was thrilled to be seeing my first staged version of Persuasion at the Rosemary Branch Theatre.

Persuasion tells the story of heroine, Anne Elliot who falls in love with Captain Wentworth and is advised by her good friend, Lady Russell, to break off an engagement as he is of “little consequence.” Fast forward 7 years and Captain Wentworth has now made a name for himself and has a great deal of money. How will this change things for Anne? Does Captain Wentworth feel the same, or have they both moved on?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen’s style of writing is incredibly descriptive. Her poetic written voice makes up a massive percentage of her novels compared to character speech. The adaptation of this complex text by Bryony J. Thompson involved the characters speaking the description as direct address to the audience. A device that I thought was cleverly performed by all the actors and wonderful for the spectators - we were there with them the entire time.

This cast of 6 actors deftly mastered the art of subtlety with their multirole. Each of the parts had tiny idiosyncrasies which gave the audience a sense of clarity that I didn’t think would be possible with such an extensive Austen character list. From Mrs Clay’s (Sarita Plowman) twitchy nose, to Charles Musgrove’s (Adam Elliott) hilarious, gaping smile, I found myself enjoying the result of some detailed character analysis.

A particular favourite for me was Beatrice Rose who had 4 similar characters to play in this production. The younger sister of the protagonist, Mary Elliot was shrill and irritating in the most charming of ways and her Mrs Smith was understated and caring. She did a marvellous job of defining her multiple characters and playing them with oodles of truth and energy.

Rose McPhilemy and Philip Honeywell both had moments of brilliance - a charming Anne Elliot with gumption and a Captain Wentworth who delivered his final confession of love with so much passion that it gave Austen on-screen stars a run for their money.

A mention must also be given for the wonderful costumes! Beautiful, simple, elegant and I found myself wishing I had one to wear for my Sunday best!

Overall, I think that everyone should be persuaded to make a trip into Islington to see the remaining performances. A production with heart, warmth and class that transported us back to the period with ease.

Persuasion runs at the Rosemary Branch Theatre until 22nd May.
(c) 2016 Molly Miller

Review by Julia Rank, The Stage
Four Stars ★★★★
With its tradition of inventive literary adaptations, the Rosemary Branch makes for a convivial setting in which to celebrate Persuasion, Jane Austen’s last completed and most emotionally stirring novel, in its bicentenary year.

Having previously adapted, directed and designed Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, Bryony J. Thompson’s technique, in which every word spoken comes from the original text (condensed as necessary), is an unlikely dramatic method in an age of the radical deconstruction of classic texts, and yet it works to quite remarkable effect, retaining the beauty of the language and distinctive narrative voices, combined with an immediacy in its delivery to make compelling storytelling.

The use of Austen’s snarky asides as spoken stage directions of sorts cleverly exposes the hypocrisy of high society that so stifles heroine Anne Elliot. The juxtaposition between artifice and emotion is particularly effective in the way in which the narrative gives voice Anne’s thoughts, in which she ultimately emerges as a woman in control of her own head and heart.

Elegantly attired in their cream and grey livery, the nimble cast of six employ only adjustments in voice and body language to portray over twenty characters and all master Austen’s language with the utmost fluency. Rose McPhilemy gracefully captures Anne’s patient goodness, wry sense of humour and keen intelligence, so much of which is conveyed through her remarkably expressive eyes. Upon receiving that love letter from Captain Wentworth (an effectively saturnine Philip Honeywell), she is radiance personified, even (or especially) as a superannuated romantic heroine at the advanced age of 27.

Elegant and eloquent Austen adaptation intelligently performed by sprightly young cast

Rosemary Branch Jan/Feb 2016

Review by Lily Hayes, A Younger Theatre
It is the meticulous attention to detail in the direction (Bryony J. Thompson) that makes the Rosemary Branch Theatre’s production of Jane Eyre so special. Each moment is carefully crafted, and it is clear that thought has been put into every gesture, movement, line, pathway and interaction.

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is a classic piece of literature that is greatly loved by many. It tells the story of a young orphan named Jane who lives at Gateshead with her cruel Aunt Mrs Reed. The Reed family show Jane no kindness and she is greatly unhappy. She is sent to study at the Lowood School and stays there for six years, teaching there afterwards for a further two years. She places an advertisement in the local newspaper to be a governess, and is then contacted by Mrs Fairfax to come and live at Thornfield to govern a ten-year-old girl. Jane falls in love with the owner of Thornfield, Mr Rochester, but on her wedding day learns of secrets that she may be unable to forgive.

There is always a worry with a piece such as Jane Eyre that not as many young theatregoers will attend, but I feel this production would be a perfect introduction to this type of literature and theatre if someone is not already familiar with it. When the show began, I was concerned that the speed at which it progresses would make it inaccessible for those who are not well-acquainted with the text already, but this is far from the case; I believe anyone would greatly enjoy this show (and most likely fall in love with the story) whether they knew it previously or not. The warm and inviting atmosphere in the Rosemary Branch Theatre feels very celebratory as the show celebrates the two hundredth birthday of Charlotte Brontë.

The performance space is bare with just six wooden chairs used for set and the actors wear cream period clothing throughout. This perfectly complements the piece and I did not once feel it needed anything else. Its simplicity is counteracted by the intricate and complex detail of the words and movements. All actors remain on stage for the entire piece, which allows for great smoothness of transitions; it is clear the cast are well rehearsed and are very comfortable with both the text and each other. All six actors – Alice Coles, Jack Collard, Madeline Gould, Alice Osmanski, Ben Warwick and Emilia Williams – are extremely versatile as they switch frequently between different roles. The speed of dialogue and plot progression means there is barely a moment to even catch a breath, but this captivates the audience members.

The well-loved line, “Reader, I married him”, is delivered with such delight it moved me to tears and the feeling of joy from the audience on leaving the theatre is palpable.

A wonderful adaptation.

Reviewed by Claire Roderick, Fairy Powered Productions
Reader, I was bewitched.
Bryony J. Thompson’s production of Jane Eyre is simply stunning. This adaptation remains passionately faithful to the book, omitting any fluff and showcasing the dramatic and romantic set pieces – with style. Jane’s early years are dealt with in a few minutes – no lingering deathbed scene for poor Helen here! – and the focus moves briskly on to her life at Thornfield Hall.
With a stark white set, plain white period costumes and only 6 wooden chairs, the set design mirrors the script – stripped down and sharp – allowing the actors to revel in Bronte’s beguiling language and the audience to lose themselves in the performance.

The cast of 6 are on stage throughout, with Alice Coles, Jack Collard, Madeline Gould and Alice Osmanski slipping in and out of different roles seamlessly. Osmanski’s little Adele is a delight – all wide-eyed excitement and joie de vivre. Emilia Williams is an intense but mischievous Jane and Ben Warwick’s Mr Rochester is everything you want – stern, playful and damaged. Their flirtatious banter is funny and sweet, and the passionate build up to their first kiss is portrayed brilliantly.
Thompson’s decision to have the characters switching between direct speech and narrating is very effective. The scenes where Jane has an internal monologue, with Williams surrounded by the other women all taking rapid fire turns to voice her thoughts become frantic, intense and very moving. (There was one point where it became a little Bohemian Rhapsody, but it was fleeting.)
This production creates Jane’s world in the audience’s minds through the intoxicating language and sympathetic movement – Jane’s discovery of the fire is haunting and exciting, and all done with no effects or props – amazing, and wonderful to be trusted as an audience to use your imagination and intuition. The satisfied sigh (along with a few Sense and Sensibility grunts) at “Reader, I married him” that came from the audience sums up the whole night.

Beautiful, moving and intelligent theatre.

JANE EYRE Directed, adapted, and designed by Bryony J. Thompson
Review by Heather Jeffrey, London Pub Theatres One
At The Rosemary Branch Theatre, Islington until 14th February
‘Illuminating and stunningly beautiful’ ★★★★
The Opening scene is beautifully set up with the sound of scribbling; a scratchy pen on rough paper. We are reminded straight away that this production of JANE EYRE is timed to celebrate Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday. It is also a celebration of Co-Artistic Directors Cecelia Darker & Cleo Sylvestre 20 years at the helm of The Rosemary Branch Theatre. They have chosen to revive Artistic Associate Bryony J. Thompson’s well-loved production of JANE EYRE, just in time for Valentine’s Day!

Thompson who directed, adapted and designed the production has kept very close the original text and given it a very pacey delivery only slowing down for the most emotionally important lines. The style is very physical and visual. Most of all the outstanding costume design and construction gives the piece its ‘scenery’. A fast motion camera would be able to capture a series of stunningly beautiful tableaus. The plain ivory calico of the costumes gives a depth of meaning to the play, whilst without analysing how it does so, it can be felt.

It is part of an actors’ skill to be able to morph into a character at will and this cast, many of whom were multi-roling, were outstandingly in this respect. Madeline Gould was particularly notable. Not just in her physical changes but also breathing life into the characters of Mrs Fairfax (a kindly woman with a slight stoop), the mad woman (responding to her lonely incarcerated), and the dying woman (her body twisted from a stroke, her mind bitter). Ben Warwick and Emilia Williams also deserve a special mention. Warwick for playing the role of Rochester true to type, handsome and brooding; hurting and flawed. Williams for her spunky portraying of plain speaking Jane Eyre.

Rochester: Do you find me handsome?
Jane Eyre: No! Sir …

This production of JANE EYRE illuminated the text extremely well. The feminism apparent there is clear, as Jane only returns to Rochester after she has become her own woman. The mad woman, Bertha Mason is treated with more sympathy in that she is given her own character rather than just being a vehicle for the story. The grand romance running through the story is also very satisfyingly full blown in this production, with some expression of redemption for Rochester being a crowd pleaser.

The original music by James Young and the sound engineer James Seconde, are also to be commended for their sparingly used but emotive sound design.

On the downside, those who have come to see a play, might be disappointed. This production can be better described as theatrical story telling as the characters tell their own narratives. Whereas the device used for verbalising ‘thoughts’ works well, the narrative sometimes makes the two act show feel a little turgid. However, those who love the text and those coming fresh to the story are likely to be completely entranced.

A further treat awaits, as the Rosemary Branch pub is full of warmth, from the friendly staff, to the coal fire. It’s a pub full of charm and pleasing ambiance, where delicious pub food is served with a smile.

Pride & Prejudice at the Rosemary Branch March 10 to April 4 2015

Everything Theatre
reviewed by Helen Dalton
4 stars. ★★★★
Another immensely enjoyable production from Rosemary Branch Theatre. A lively, fast-paced adaptation that doesn’t stop to draw breath, sparkling with Jane Austen’s brilliantly funny characters and witty dialogue.

The Rosemary Branch's fun and lively adaptation of Pride and Prejudice will not disappoint fans of either the original book or the much-loved screen adaptations. This production does wonders within the limitations of a very small stage space and a cast of just seven people, creating a show that is smart, swift, and funny.

Apart from the central lovers, each cast member plays multiple characters, switching between them at dizzying speed with no costume changes to indicate the shifts. As someone who knows the story of Pride and Prejudice well, I found it easy enough to follow the quick character changes, but it may be more difficult for anyone unfamiliar with the plot. On the other hand, the cast do a fantastic job of bringing Austen’s vibrant characters to life, exaggerating their foibles and characteristics to make each recognisable. George Haynes, playing Mr. Bingley, Mr. Wickham, Mr. Collins and Colonel Fitzwilliam, steals the show. Haynes portrays his array of characters with comic intensity; his Mr. Bingley is grinning and enthusiastic; Mr. Wickham sleazy and swaggering; and Mr. Collins simply ridiculous – as he should be.

Austen fans will appreciate how faithful this adaptation is to the book’s language. In fact, the entire script is taken directly from the book; the text’s language has been abridged but has not been altered or added to at all. This means that during the play someone is almost always talking and the characters often speak the words of the narrator, explaining their own emotions or narrating their actions as they perform them. It is a singular approach that is unusual and slightly overwhelming to begin with, but overall works nicely and creates some very funny moments. This approach gives the cast plenty of opportunities to gently mock the characters they are playing, doing full justice to Austen’s gently, mocking wit and incredible array of lovably ridiculous characters.

Although much has been pruned to cut Pride and Prejudice down to size, there remains a lot to fit into the two-and-a-bit hours of the play. The production storms along at a fast pace; lively and energetic. The speed displays Austen’s witty dialogue to great advantage; the quick, mocking exchanges between characters are very funny. And yet I felt the pace was sometimes too fast, too hurried. Perhaps this is unavoidable considering the challenges of turning a three hundred page novel into a play. I felt that the speed of the production highlighted the comedy of the story, but sometimes overlooked the drama and romance. A more languid pace would allow us to enjoy the slow maturing of one of literature’s most delicious love stories.

As it is, Mr. Darcy does not seem particularly integral to the production or story. With so much activity, so much witty conversation filling up the stage, it is strangely easy to overlook the silently brooding Mr. Darcy: a man who does not join in with the easy, lighthearted conversation of the rest of the characters. Many of his actions in the story actually take place offstage and are only later related by other characters, so Mr. Darcy is unfortunately not often in the limelight. Overall, the production focuses mostly on the fantastic comedy of Pride and Prejudice’s characters, rather than the slow-burning love story at it’s heart.

The Rosemary Branch is a comfortable and welcoming pub theatre in East London with a cosy little theatre space upstairs. Unlike many pub-theatres, the theatre space does not suffer from unwanted noise from downstairs. Even better, the seating is thankfully tiered, so there’s no craning your neck to see what’s happening on the stage. The Rosemary Branch’s latest adaptation beautifully showcases Austen’s sparkling wit and comic characters, and will leave you charmed, whether you’ve never seen or read Pride and Prejudice before or you’re an Austen fan.

Destination Hackney
no reviewer name
Having grown up watching the BBC’s TV series of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ on repeat (remember Colin Firth as Mr Darcy in THAT lake scene?) it was hard to conceal my excitement at being reunited with the characters live on stage.

Last year’s production of 'Jane Eyre' was celebrated as ‘fringe theatre at its best’ by The Stage magazine. Now, director Bryony J Thompson has turned her talent for adaption to the story of the five unmarried Bennet sisters and their quests for love, complicated by the expectations of the era and the timeless obstacle of a pushy mother.

While the feckless Mr Bennet (Daniel Brennan) would rather laugh at the sillier members of his family, shrill Mrs Bennet (Lainey Shaw) is primarily concerned with finding suitable husbands for Elizabeth, Jane, Mary, Catherine and her youngest, Lydia, aged 15, whether the matches give her daughters happiness or not.

When eligible bachelors, the affable Mr Bingley (George Haynes) and proud Mr Darcy (Danny Frost) move into the neighbourhood, the Bennet household go into overdrive to impress the young, rich men.
At the centre of the love storm is, of course, Lizzie and Mr Darcy. Despite a shaky start in their relationship (“his pride! His abominable pride!”) the duo eventually overcome their differences and fall in love, with Lizzie admitting: “Vanity, not love, has been my folly.”

Told cleverly through a mixture of prose and narrative, the seven-strong cast move effortlessly into their shared roles; most notably Alice Coles as the silly Lydia Bennet, dogged Charlotte Lucas, level-headed Carline Bingley and odd Mary Bennet.

The production is fast-paced, quick-witted and brilliantly acted. The cast and creative directors in this cosy community theatre have bodly brought Austen’s famous novel to life on this intimate stage.

UK Theatre Network
reviewed by Carolin Koplin

Following her impressive production of Jane Eyre last year, Bryony J. Thompson has now adapted Jane Austen's most popular classic. Of course this novel has already been adapted for stage and screen - and TV - many times. Who will ever forget Colin Firth's portrayal of the proud Mr Darcy, especially his refreshing swim in the lake?

Mrs Bennet is feverishly looking for prospective husbands for her teenage daughters. Although her family is not poor, once her husband passes on everything will be inherited by a distant cousin and she and her daughters will be destitute. Mr Bingley, a wealthy bachelor, has just arrived and Mrs Bennet urges her husband to invite him over so he can see her beautiful daughters and hopefully marry one of them. Charles Bingley, a charming young man, is enchanted by Jane and Mrs Bennet's hopes seem to come true. His friend Mr Darcy observes the dealings of the Bennet family with cool arrogance and although admitting that Jane is beautiful dismisses the rest of the family, making a snide remark about Elizabeth, which she overhears. From then on their relationship is fraught at best. With Jane in safe hands, Mrs Bennet has set her eyes on Mr Bennet's cousin - the future heir - as Elizabeth's prospective husband. Yet Lizzie, an intelligent and self-confident girl, is not interested in the bumbling fool. She refuses to marry him. Mrs Bennet is outraged.

The performance begins with a tableau of the main characters before Mrs Bennet initiates the action. The set and the costumes, also designed by Ms Thompson, are held in cream colours and white. The cast is on stage for the entire performance, playing multiple roles - with the exception of Emilia Williams (Elizabeth Bennet) and Danny Frost (Fitzwilliam Darcy).

The main problem of adapting a novel for the stage (or screen) is that often so much is lost. Obviously, sacrifices have to be made because a performance should not last much longer than two hours. Ms Thompson solves one of the main problems in a very original way - the actors comment on the characters they are playing but "in character". Bryony J. Thompson has already used this style in Jane Eyre. This idea works very well as it enriches the characters as well as adding a lot of humour to the production and embracing Jane Austen's beautiful language.

The cast is quite exceptional. Emilia Williams is entirely convincing as Elizabeth Bennet, an intelligent and thoughtful young woman with wit and esprit. Danny Frost is equally good as the aloof Darcy who coolly states: "My good opinion once lost is lost forever". Yet there is more to the man than his arrogance as we all know and Mr Frost conveys Darcy's true character without doing much. George Haynes is a surprisingly versatile actor switching between the sociable Charles Bingley, the swashbuckling George Wickham, the clumsy Mr Colins, and the amiable Colonel Fitzwilliam within seconds. Lainey Shaw is equally impressive when she changes between the chatty busybody Mrs Bennet and the forbidding Lady Catherine de Burgh - who has an uncanny resemblance to Margaret Thatcher - in an instant, among many other parts. Daniel Brennan is very good as the witty, jovial Mr Bennet, who seems to be particularly close to his daughter Elizabeth. Alice Coles is lovely as the sprightly, somewhat naive Lydia Bennet and the quiet yet charming Charlotte Lucas. Carla Freeman also convinces in her various roles, especially as the beautiful and sensitive Jane Bennet.
This fast-paced and witty production directed and adapted by Bryony J. Thompson captures the beautiful language of the novel and its rich characters.

British Theatre Guide
reviewed by Howard Loxton

Austen aficionados should like this treatment of this favourite novel for director / adaptor Bryony J Thompson has not only stayed true to the story but tells it using Austen’s own words. This is not so much a dramatisation as theatrical story-telling.

There are no invented conversations. The text (heavily edited of course to fit into a play’s two-hour traffic) is divided between the whole company, broken down sometimes into sentences, and clearly delivered flowingly almost without interruption from one voice to another. Actual dialogue is delivered by the character and reported episodes often acted out by those in them, sometimes as they themselves describe the action.

Within this format there are no directorial gimmicks. This is a clear and straightforward presentation, dressed in period and played against a classically formal but neutral background that puts all the emphasis on actors and text. The whole cast is on stage throughout: creating moments of action when needed, for a ball or a coach ride for instance, sometimes part of a melee of movement sometimes melting into the background.

Things happen very rapidly, the text is clearly delivered but at such a pace that those not already familiar with the story may miss some of the minutiae, as the life and loves of the girls of the Bennet family are revealed: their insecure future, their mother’s aspirations, their father’s benevolence, romantic attachments, elopements, forced marriages, visits to relations and to grand houses.
With everyone, except those playing dashing Mr Darcy and delightful eldest daughter Elizabeth, playing multiple roles as well as sharing narration, you do have to listen carefully to know when who is who. Mr Darcy says he admires Miss Bennet for the liveliness of her mind and Miss Thompson credits her audience having lively minds too.

George Haynes is new neighbour Bingley and Mr Wickham among others. Wickham may be a bit of a bad egg but you can see exactly why Alice Coles's giggly irresponsible Lydia would fall for him. Carla Freeman plays a gentle Jane Bennet and younger sister Kitty but gets more chance at creating a character as Georgiana Darcy.

Daniel Brennan is the girls’ indulgent, plummy-voiced father and if he, with Lainey Shaw as Mrs Bennet and together all the other older characters, become just a bit hammy adding years to their actual ages, that is not out of key with Austen’s often critically caustic portrayals and allows us to laugh at them.

At the heart of the story, Danny Frost presents a Fitzwilliam Darcy who is tall dark and handsome. No wet shirts are needed, on or off, to make him a mark for every matchmaker and Emilia Williams is a delightful Elizabeth Bennett. When they get the chance to play an actual duologue together, the play sparkles.

Where Austen has provided the adaptor with dialogue or a letter that can be treated as a soliloquy, this adaptation works best. However inventive the way that it is handled, this production is in danger of being swamped by narration that doesn’t allow enough scope to build character and empathy and sweeps on a little too evenly.

I would have preferred greater liberties to have been taken in the adaptation instead of literally sticking so precisely to Austen’s text, but it is cleverly constructed and the Austen fans alongside me were in all ways delighted.

The Upcoming
reviewed by Lyubomira Kirilova
4 stars.

Following the success of last year’s production of Jane Eyre, the Rosemary Branch presents a new play based on one of the most popular and beloved novels in English literature: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Reinventing such a well-known story for the stage is thought of as rather tricky: the novel has been adapted so many times that almost everyone has a certain vision of it. The question of how a lengthy book full of so many characters, so heavy on narrative and description rather than on dialogue would work in a play comes up often. All these concerns are immediately put to rest once Bryony J Thompson’s version unfolds on the small stage at the Rosemary Branch.

The main quality of this adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is how faithful it is to the book: the original language is entirely kept and every word in the play is from the novel, with mild alterations where needed. Aside from the popular phrases exchanged between her characters, you also get to hear some of Austen’s wittier writing, which proves to be a brilliant narrative tool not only on the page but the stage too. The characters themselves speak the words of the narrator, often describing their own actions as they’re performing them: an original method that works surprisingly well and results in a fast-paced, amusing play. Ultimately, by working in this way, Thompson has managed to recreate Austen’s signature witticisms and biting commentary on the stage, masterfully highlighting the comedy value of the novel.

The play consists of only seven actors, always present on stage, quickly shifting from one character to another – with the exception of Danny Frost and Emilia Williams, who stay in the roles of Darcy and Elizabeth throughout. George Haynes swiftly moves from charming Bingley to flirty Wickham to unpleasant Mr Collins, and he does it with such an ease that it’s impossible to confuse them. By having all these bubbly characters on stage at once, a fuller picture of silent Mr Darcy is painted.
All in all, this is a very funny, well-acted play; a version of Pride and Prejudice that will not fail to satisfy any fan of the original material.

The Stage
reviewed by Catherine Usher
A group of just seven actors does an impressive job of portraying the entire cast of characters in Pride and Prejudice, with a likeable Elizabeth Bennet and the stern Mr Darcy at its heart.

Dazzling Alice Coles takes on the roles of Lydia Bennet, Caroline Bingley, Charlotte Lucas and a stuttering Mary Bennet and is thoroughly convincing in all roles, without even altering her costume. All cast members (apart from Darcy and Elizabeth) play a variety of roles using only voice and posture to define the different characters and they all demonstrate real talent for transformation with barely any props to help them.

Many audience members will know the Jane Austen story backwards so the shorthand style used throughout won’t trouble them, but, for the uninitiated few, this adaptation could be confusing.
Narration is used to move the plot along and add a degree of explanation, but at times this is intrusive, disrupting the flow of the scenes.

Of course, the play hinges on its lead couple and Emilia Williams and Danny Frost are both highly suited to their roles. Williams captures Elizabeth’s smart and playful character expertly and Frost cuts a dashing and imposing figure as Darcy. He is more David Rintoul than Colin Firth, keeping his composure as stiff as his shirt collars at all times.

Jane Eyre. (at the Rosemary Branch and then on tour) 2014

Jane Eyre – review (What's Peen Seen)

posted on MARCH 15, 2014 by ALEX DELANEY

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is a book that provokes passionate adoration in many of its readers, not least in Bryony J Thompson, the director of this loving adapted version. Draping both her set and actors in plain cream calico, Thompson (also the designer) has created the perfect blank canvas for the audience’s imagination, allowing us to conjure our own images just as we would when reading. In this, she skilfully sidesteps one of the main areas of concern when a favourite novel is turned into a film or play: that the director’s version of this character or that event will not match up to our own.

The minimalistic set, comprising one book and six chairs, allows this talented ensemble of actors, aided by Thompson’s superbly edited script, to whisk us through the first eighteen years of Jane’s life simply and effectively. Remaining on stage at all times, Lily Beck, Helen Keely, Phillip Honeywell and Joss Wyre, gracefully switch from child to headmaster, from invalid to housekeeper, with the minimum of adjustment, keeping the audience enthralled as this glorious tale unfolds.

The only two actors who play a single role are Hannah Madison, an utterly engaging and assured Jane Eyre, and Rob Pomfret, whose Rochester is as brooding and ardent as the most devoted fan could desire. Their relationship is the true heart of the story and burns brightly at the centre of this production. Thompson’s use of the female ensemble to voice Jane’s thoughts, and represent the many sides of her, is a clever and successful device. The absence of their voices in Jane’s encounters with Rochester also powerfully demonstrates that it is with him she is able to be most truly her whole self.

Whereas the Bristol Old Vic’s Jane Eyre is currently running at over four hours, Thompson’s edits, combined with the skill of her multi-role cast, means that this version flies by at a cracking pace. Despite that, there were unfortunately moments when the second half seemed to drag. This could be a fault of the novel itself as the months that Jane spends with the Rivers family are tedious even in Bronte’s hands, but the judicious cutting that was applied so brilliantly to the opening chapters is lacking here.

Despite this, Thompson’s adaptation is an affectionate and moving tribute to Bronte’s work and the complex, inspiring, warm woman at the core of it. Stunningly directed and exquisitely performed, it is a thoroughly enjoyable evening for those who love the novel, and a wonderful introduction for those who have yet to read it.

Rosemary Branch Theatre
2 Shepperton Road, London N1 3DT
Box Office: 020 7704 6665
See before 30th March 2014

Jane Eyre
Charlotte Brontë adapted by Bryony J Thompson
Rosemary Branch Theatre
From 12 March 2014 to 30 March 2014
Review by Howard Loxton

For director adapter and designer Bryony Thompson, this production of Jane Eyre is clearly a labour of love and that endows it with sincerity and warmth.

Charlotte Brontë has Jane tell her own story in the first person and that is also Thompson’s approach, though she brings in other voices to carry her narrative and other characters may describe themselves or their own actions. 

Costumes, all in similar early nineteenth century style and all in the same range of creams and near whites, make it easier to see these as one voice and also make it easy for the actors to assume different characters as needed. It is rather the equivalent of putting everyone in jeans and jumpers but with the addition of appropriate period flavour. Those transitions from character to character are clearly introduced and this is a very clear piece of story-telling, though it goes at a spanking pace that demands the attention and keeps the audience rapt.

With the words almost entirely drawn directly from Brontë‘s text, whether dialogue, description or narration, these would, at times, become pure story-telling rather than performance were it not for the enlivening physicality of the production. The fully-dramatised episodes make welcome highlights and there is moving and passionate playing from Hannah Maddison as Jane Eyre and Rob Pomfret as Mr Rochester, the employer with whom she falls in love and whom she discovers to be already married only when she meets him at the altar for their wedding ceremony.

Phillip Honeywell plays all the other male characters, outspoken as the brother of Rochester’s wife and coolly lacking in emotion as the cousin who wants her as a missionary wife.

Lily Beck is unkind aunt Mrs Reed, Rochester’s housekeeper Mrs Fairfax and River’s housekeeper Hannah; Joss Wyre is Helen Burns, her ailing friend at Lowood School and little Adele, daughter of Rochester’s former mistress whose governess Jane becomes at Thornfield Hall and Helen Keeley is Grace Poole, Mrs Rochester’s keeper, Blanche, whom Rochester looks like marrying and both she and Wyre play River’s sisters.

This adaptation effectively compacts the story before Jane encounters Rochester but the story-telling goes on too long before flowering into full dramatisation. The choice of music to underscore the emotion of some scenes seems counter-effective but the company makes an excellent team in the way they work together and the rapport between Pomfret and Maddison as Rochester and Jane lifts this production to dramatic effect. It is difficult to believe that such accomplished playing is actually Maddison’s professional debut.

Thursday, 13 March 2014
Jane Eyre review, Rosemary Branch Theatre

As thrilling, old-fashioned, romances go, they don't get much better than Jane Eyre. With a cast of six dressed top-to-toe in calico, working a set of just seven wooden chairs, there was a frisson of anxiety. Were we about to witness Charlotte Bronte's epic novel pared to the bone? Far from it. Bryony J Thompson's elegantly faithful adaptation is so true to the story in context and content, it's like simultaneously reading the book and having it come alive in front of you.

To recap: romance blossoms for the plain, teenage, orphan, Jane Eyre, when she's hired by the dark, testosteronic, Mr Rochester, to educate his ward, Adele. Cruel, but egalitarian, Rochester is instantly aroused by Jane's clever observations, unflinching honesty, and simple faith. That doesn't mean he isn't going to enjoy hurting her a little, even as he's spooling her in - he is, after all, twenty years her senior, and hiding an explosive secret that triggers the ultimate act of denial. When Jane is horribly humiliated at the altar, we are unsure if there ever can be - or should be - a Mills and Boon ending for this unlikely pair. And that's before Mr Rochester is burnt and blinded...

Hannah Maddison's Jane is pitched perfectly. She is a charming mix of warm heart and indomitable will, of containment and of constancy, of sharp words and soft looks. Even when you know the story well, there are moments of terror and sadness, and scenes that elicit happy sighs because we've all been there in our heads and our hearts. Jane's narrative is shared between three actors, and this works well, providing pace and tone. 

In conclusion: This is a stylish, gentle, faithful, rendition of Jane Eyre. As well as a lovely central performance, Rob Pomfret is a romantically cruel Rochester. The youthful ensemble - Joss Wyre, Phillip Honeywell, Lily Beck and Helen Keeley -provide beautifully nuanced renditions of the smaller characters. It's on tour, and well worth a ticket. 

Jane Eyre tickets and tour details 
Rosemary Branch Theatre, 2 Shepperton Road, Islington, London N1 3DT 
Shyama Perera at 23:28, Monkey Matters Theatre Reveiws

Camden Review
Published: 25 March, 2014

JANE Eyre returns triumphantly to the Rosemary Branch, albeit with a new cast.

Bryony J Thompson has created an adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s classic love story that stays loyal to the original text but manages to breathe life into the 19th-century words with smart direction and a spirited ensemble cast.

Hannah Maddison excels in the title role, her Jane is extremely likeable.

Joss Wyre, Lily Beck and Helen Keely step into a number of roles but also join Maddison in giving voice and action to Jane Eyre, a neat device to expose the young governess’ conflicting thoughts.

In many ways this is a “performed reading”. There are no costume changes and six wooden chairs are the only props. The intimate stage at Rosemary Branch has been stripped back to a whitewashed box and the cast wear simple period outfits in off-white – an apparent nod from Thompson to parchment, vellum and contemporary writing materials.

The first-person narrative of the book is maintained and supporting characters describe their movements and reactions from Jane’s point of view – leading to some welcome moments of meta-humour.

However, this does mean that the plagued Mr Rochester and devout missionary St John do not feel entirely fleshed out as characters.

This adaptation reminds us of just how determined Brontë’s heroine is, chasing her own independence and morality. A cracking love story in which, rather fittingly, the women shine.

Public Reviews
Writer: Bryony J. Thompson, from the book by Charlotte Bronte
Director: Bryony J. Thompson
Reviewer: Rosella Barnes

We’ve all had it. That debate about seeing an adaptation of one of your favourite novels in the form of cinema or theatre. The prospect that the narrative may be butchered into something ugly and not as you imagined. But when it’s done well it’s a real treat. Undoubtedly Bryony J. Thompson’s adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is the latter. The infamous classic follows a young woman’s journey to self-discovery amidst the problematic nature of love. Jane faces a constant battle between what is deemed to be right and wrong. The audience certainly shares this inner turmoil with the Jane on stage (Hannah Maddison) as they may have done with the Jane in the book, experiences the same mix of adoration, fear and anger towards Mr. Rochester (Rom Pomfret), and the same melancholy feeling towards their traditional marriage.

Maddison’s performance is enchanting, endearing and captivating. Despite this being her professional debut, Maddison shows no sign of lacking experience; she captivates the audience with her raw portrayal of Jane as an emotionally aware, capable young lady. Thompson’s use of the three other female cast members to represent Jane’s thoughts in the autobiographical manner of the book is extremely unusual and well edited. Bar Jane and Mr. Rochester, the other members of the cast hold four different interchangeable dialogues which could become messy; however each is equally impressive and coherent throughout. At times the shift between and inner monologue and speech is self-mocking which is both charming and amusing. All three women show great skill in their use of accents, notably Blanche Ingram (Helen Keely), Mrs. Fairfax (Lily Beck) and little Adele (Joss Wyre) which adds authenticity and at times light relief from darker, more depressing moments.

This play copes well with the small stage space with scene changes illustrated through the twirling of chairs, the only real prop in the play. There is no need for set design as the focus is rightly on the dialogue. The stage is minimalist, not bare, with no obvious use of lighting or sound (that doesn’t come from the cast) or form of costume. There are, of course, minor tweaks to the plot of the novel, however Thompson does well to lift a lot of dialogue from the pages of the book itself. Minor characters can at times be forgotten and when they arrive the performance is sometimes overly dramatic; S. John Rivers (Phillip Honeywell) seems more menacing than a mere lone man.

It is clear that there is a love for Bronte’s Jane Eyre, an honouring of the author’s skill and Jane herself. This play celebrates what makes a classic, a classic. The story itself is relevant to times past and present, and certainly is not festering in the 1800s. The production is performed as fluently as Bronte’s own words; extremely well edited and choreographed, the movement of the characters on stage flows enjoyably throughout. The performance seems almost effortless, the characters utterly believable. With only a few more dates on its tour, this play deserves a bigger audience. If not, keep an eye on the actresses, they are ones to watch.

UK THEATRE NETWORK by Carolin Koplin

While I think and breathe I must love him.

Following last year's successful run, Bryony J. Thompson's skilful adaptation of one of our favourite novels returns to the Rosemary Branch Theatre. Only Rob Pomfret as Mr. Rochester remains of the original cast but the production is as vibrant and gripping as ever.

Set in 1840s England, Charlotte Brontë's novel is not merely a romantic story with a gothic touch. It contains proto-feminist elements and social criticism. Jane Eyre, a pennyless orphan, is raised by her aunt who abuses her emotionally and physically. When Jane is sent to Lowood school her ordeal continues: She is quickly ostracized because of her individualistic nature and honesty. Her only friend Helen dies of tuberculosis leaving Jane completely isolated. After finishing her education, Jane becomes a very young governess to a French girl: Adele, the ward of Mr Rochester, at Thornfield Hall.

Despite their first encounter is less than perfect, Jane and Mr. Rochester soon find that they are cast in the same mould. Both are brash and honest, they speak the same language. When Jane remarks on Rochester's looks he retorts: "You are not pretty any more than I am handsome." Jane falls in love with the Byronic Edward Rochester and her feelings are reciprocated but Mr. Rochester is hiding a dark secret that threatens to destroy their future together.

Bryony J. Thompson combines Charlotte Brontë’s original dialogue with the actual narrative. The whole cast tell the story, acting as a chorus, sharing Jane Eyre’s innermost thoughts with us as well as those of their own characters, in this narrative driven production. All actors, apart from Hannah Maddison and Rob Pomfret play a variety of parts. Hannah Maddison gives a strong performance as the honest and principled Jane Eyre, loyal and true to those she loves. Rob Pomfret conveys the dark and brooding but slightly mischievous nature of the charismatic Mr. Rochester. Lily Beck is cold and callous as Jane's aunt Mrs. Reed, cheerful and good-natured as Mrs. Fairfax, and warm and loving as Jane's cousin Hannah. Phillip Honeywell gives a very good performance as St. John Rivers, Jane's religious cousin who wants to take her along as a missionary's wife: "God formed you for labour, not love." Joss Wyre is a sprightly Adele and Helen Keeley convinces as the tough Grace Poole, who is entangled in Mr. Rochester's secret, as Blanche Ingram, and Diana Rivers.

The costumes and stage design (Bryony J. Thompson) are held in a cream colour which resembles old parchment, and add to the atmosphere of the period piece with a slightly yellowed look. The set design consists of drapes and chairs that are moved in a beautifully choreographed dance.

If you missed out on this production last year, go see it now!
By Carolin Kopplin

Views from the Gods: 
Jane Eyre
The Rosemary Branch
13th March 2014

Colin Firth may have cemented Mr Darcy's place in literature as one of the greatest romantics of all time, but if you look to Jane Austen's other works and those of other classic female authors, there's plenty more where he came from. In Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, she writes of an infinitely more complex man, a brooding figure with at least as many flaws as good qualities, and one who also captures the imagination. Mr Darcy may be a little bit rude to strangers, but Mr Rochester will quite happily torment everyone.

For those who don't know or can't quite recall the plot, it revolves around a relatively poor orphan, Jane (Hannah Maddison), who after a fairly middling childhood under the care of her disinterested aunt, Mrs Fairfax (Lily Beck), takes up a position as a governess. Moving to Thornfield Hall, she looks after Adèle (Joss Wyre), the ward of notoriously grumpy Mr Rochester (Rob Pomfret). Despite their stations in life being quite different, Jane and Mr Rochester fall for each other from the outset.

A question mark remains over whether Mr Rochester is actually Adèle's father, or just one of many former lovers of the child's mother. However, the worst is yet to come - as well as the grand old hall having plenty of closets with skeletons in them, it also has an attic with a mad woman in it. Suddenly it becomes clear why Mr Rochester doesn't have a stream of eligible débutantes queuing up outside his door.

There are admittedly some problems with the first half. In an attempt to condense Brontë's 500-odd page novel into only a few hours, director/adapter Bryony J Thompson fast forwards Jane's early life, with none of the actors even pausing to take a breath during the scenes at Lowood School or her initial arrival at Thornfield. The slow incidental music provides an uncomfortable contrast, and the piece doesn't really relax until Mr Rochester summons Jane and Adèle to take tea with him. There are also some technical issues with the sound, not quite starting on cue in places, and suffering from interference in others.

However, once the backgound is out of the way, the pacing improves. And most importantly, the dynamic between Jane and Mr Rochester is perfectly captured. Maddison is a relatively new actress, but you would never be able to tell from her performance here. Her Jane is full of just the right amount of naivity, honesty, playfulness and morality. She is lifted straight from Brontë's pages and brought to life in exactly the way that we have always imagined her.

As for the complex Mr Rochester, Pomfret not only has the rugged tall, dark appearance required for the part, but he is self-assured, a little bit arrogant, prone to fiery rages and yet completely smitten with Jane and protective of her. Brontë's Byronic hero was always sweet on the inside, with a snarly outer layer, and that's reflected here in full.

Sometimes the humour is very overblown, with Beck in particular delivering a melodramatic swansong as Mrs Reed and showing us a kindly busybody version of Mrs Fairfax. Whilst these moments entertain, far more fitting are the heart-warming laughs from Jane and Mr Rochester's game-playing, his misplaced jealousy amusing rather than dark. To an extent, it doesn't really matter how good the rest of the narrative is, as long as the relationship between Jane and Mr Rochester is believable, any minor faults can be forgiven.

All characters are dressed in near identical costumes - long flowing skirts for the women and dashingly puffy sleeves and riding boots for the men. Thompson chooses shades of cream and beige to blend into the walls of the theatre, which have been covered in swathes of sandy material. All the actors switch roles often - or at least, from first person to narrator - and whilst they may refer to particular details, a character dressed in a certain way, with a certain hairstyle, never are any additional props or costumes used. Thompson sets the piece in the 19th century, but insists we picture the finer details ourselves, just as we did when reading the novel.

It's clear throughout that Thompson has a great affection for Brontë's writing and her adaptation is a thoroughly satisfying one. Not once do Jane's values waver, she always acts with the courage of her convictions and remains some 167 years on, an inspirational female figure. Whether you enjoy period drama or not, this is a production which appeal to anyone who has ever believed in love. Dear reader, do make the effort to see this, you'll be moved and entertained.

Everything Theatre:
Jane Eyre, Rosemary Branch Theatre – Review
Author: Anna Croft Savva in DramaOff West EndReviews 16 March 2014 0

Pros: A well-loved classic of English literature brought vividly to life in this gem of a production.

Cons: An intimate performance but with a verve and energy slightly too great for such a small space. At times the action felt cramped and too close for comfort.
Our Verdict

The closest thing to reading the novel yourself, this is an intelligent and faithful adaptation which could become a classic in its own right.

Brimming with pace and life, this uniquely touching production not only does justice to one of the best loved novels of all time, it also proves the value and continued relevance of theatrical adaptations. Before attending I assumed, given that the novel is such a part of our cultural heritage, that nothing new could be said. I believed the story dated and done to death. My thoughts turned loosely to film adaptations, only good to while away a rainy afternoon.

Dear reader I was wrong. This play is sure to please even the most ardent fan of Charlotte Brontë, arguably one of the finest English novelists of all time.

Many adaptations fail by chopping and changing plot and prose, or by labouring on some contemporary twist in set design or characterisation. Taking too novel an approach (excuse the pun) is not only distracting for the audience, but detracts from the raw brilliance of the written word.

Where some fail, this beautiful and faithful production triumphs, for all its simplicity. The play is the perfect introduction for those unfamiliar with Jane Eyre, Brontë’s classic work of romantic gothic fiction set in the wilds of northern England in the 1800s. Full credit should be given to writer and director Bryony J. Thompson, whose sympathetic direction allows Brontë’s genius to shine through.

The play has a pure aesthetic, with its set design of white washed walls, drapery and actors clad in simple white toned regency style costumes. This stripped back approach is essential for such a small space as theRosemary Branch theatre, allowing the audience to engage fully with the performance.

The six strong cast perform a beautiful balancing act, seamlessly interchanging between characters and timeframes minute on minute. So vivid were the descriptive elements and limited the physical action that it felt like I was watching the recording of a vintage radio drama.

The verve and momentum in this play are its key strengths. One can practically see the proverbial pages of the book fly open, and as it continued Brontë’s language became more and more mesmerising in its lyricism. The cast race through the telling of Jane’s childhood until the present day, where we find her as governess to Mr Rochester’s child Adele. They pause, and the love affair to end all begins. It’s tragic, gloomy stuff, but the lesser explored themes such as religion, social class and feminism are handled with light touches of humour which the audience loved and which really served to lift the spirits.

Lilly Beck, who plays the dotty Mrs Fairfax, was particularly skilled in her delivery of the clipped quip. Helen Keely’s smarmy lady of the manor, Blanche Ingram, provided the perfect counterpoint to Jane’s quiet longing and earnest heart. Joss Wyre’s shy child Adele provided yet more laughs as she feigned a French accent, twirled and curtsied. Phillip Honeywell is solid in the role of the wilful St John Rivers, the preacher who has designs on the lovelorn Jane. The gentle hits of satire by this particularly strong supporting cast allow lead actors Hannah Maddison (Jane Eyre) and Rob Pomfret (Mr Rochester) to delve into the raw emotionality of the prose.

With little makeup as the plain Jane Eyre, Hannah Maddison is pitch perfect throughout in what is unbelievably her stage debut. She captures the hidden inner strength of Jane’s character and confessional quality of the book with all its hushed secrecy and horror. Rob Pomfret is also well cast as the brooding, misunderstood Mr Rochester, which he conveys with strong physicality and gruffness.

The Rosemary Branch Theatre have breathed new life into this emotionally challenging yet tried and tested adaption by stripping it back to basics. They also have a good selection of continental beer at the bar.

Blog (PunctualSally) by Sally Jack
April 5 2014

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë is a classic of English literature. Set in 19th century Yorkshire, the titular character is a strong, spirited young woman who, although fictional, still inspires fierce devotion from her many fans.

The 20th century brought numerous film and TV adaptations and there is always a danger future productions may be one too many, not measure up to old favourites or the book itself.

It is clear Bryony J Thompson – writer, director, lighting and audio technician of Rosemary Branch Theatre’s production of Jane Eyre – has great affection and respect for the novel. Expertly edited but remaining true to the novel’s core, this adaptation gallops through orphan Jane’s unhappy childhood to her fateful meeting with Mr Edward Fairfax Rochester and his horse on Hay Lane.

And so begins one of literature’s most heart-wrenching romances, a masterpiece in Gothic tension and the social sensibilities of Victorian England. It is remarkable that the Yorkshire moors, the splendour of Thornfield Hall and a wide variety of characters are represented so convincingly by six actors and six chairs on a barely 4m wide stage. Simple period costumes of cream calico add to the overwhelming sense the book is coming alive, punctuated by stylised movements as they glide from scene to scene like a turn of a page.

Lily Beck, Helen Keely, Philip Honeywell and Joss Wyre deftly portray a wealth of characters without prop or ornament, instead using skilful and subtle physicality and voice. Hannah Madison plays Jane Eyre throughout, perfectly capturing her delicacy but also her inner steel. Many aspects of love are touchingly displayed: Jane’s yearnings for a settled home with a family she can love, her spirituality and her desire to be true to herself mean this is not just about the romance of Jane and Edward. Rob Pomfret is a worthy wearer of Rochester’s breeches: swarthy, brooding but tender. Occasional use of the female actors as Jane’s internal monologue and the combination of narrative from the novel as well as dialogue is effective, bringing out the humour in this intense story.

Both Friday and Saturday’s audiences at Upstairs at the Western were engaged throughout, interspersed with a few tearful sniffs towards the end.

This is a cleverly directed production, beautifully acted and simply staged.

Reader, I recommend it.

Excerpt from Indigo Memoirs piece on alternative theatres in London:
by Ruby S. (published April 8 2014)

Perhaps the biggest surprise of our journey was The Rosemary Branch Theatre, which is nestled above an old pub in Haggerston. It is inconspicuous and cosy, but exudes real warmth and community spirit. It is run by Cecilia, Cleo and Bryony, all of whom have backgrounds in dance and theatre and have brought the shimmer of the stage to The Rosie, as it is affectionately known. We saw Bryony’s adaptation of Jane Eyre- gripping, gothic and fast paced, it retained almost all of the stunning language of the original text and was acted to perfection by the small cast. With no costume changes and six chairs acting as the only props, this production was a shining example of the power of language, stripped back and spare. 

From the audience...

We really enjoyed this performance. The six actors were superb, easily changing from one character to the other, and back. They all deserved a standing ovation but especially Hannah Maddison, who played Jane Eyre, and Rob Pomfret as Mr Rochester. The stage was kept in stark white, no background or scenery, and the actors wore white as well. In this setting nothing distracted from acting or story line, and we were surely not disappointed. The food in the pub downstairs was very nice, and they have a very interesting selection of beers on tap. Highly recommended.

Plain white scenery. Plain white costumes. But an extremely colourful performance. Very cleverly adapted and well acted. Recommend.

This is well worth seeing. If you're hesitating, just go and see it, you wont regret it. There are only 6 actors, in a tiny whitewashed room, and no props but a few chairs. Despite this, the actors (especially the lady playing Jane Eyre) are all incredible, passionate and very believable. I was gripped all the way through, and about 1/2 the audience was crying at various points!

OMG we are so lucky to be living in London in the second decade of the 21st century! The fringe theatre is thriving and with The Audience Club we can see many of these productions. Tonight I saw six wonderful exponents of the dramatic art in an excellent production of Jane Eyre. It would be churlish to single out any member of this ensemble cast - so I won't. It is often said that 'It starts with the writing' and this clever adaptation has a clear narrative and includes all of the essential elements of Charlotte Bronte's novel. The production is stark, but extremely effective: the walls whitewashed and only six period-style wooden chairs as scenery. The costumes are also effective, with regency style, but in a sepia range of colouration. I particularly appreciated the hairstyles - both the boys and the girls - they added an element of period authenticity. So, with these simple, but stylish, production values nothing got in the way of the drama that was presented. All of the cast members were on stage all of the time and the direction was so clever that the movements employed were at times like (modern) ballet and it was 'picture' after 'picture' after 'picture'. I would give this production six stars if I could.

This was an extraordinary piece of theatre, and highly recommended. The whole cast were extremely talented, and special mention must go to the lead and Mr Rochester for their brilliant acting and connection. A really good script too, and well performed: the lines are almost all (or maybe even completely all) from the novel, so it would specially appeal to those who want to see a very faithful adaption.

My partner and I had a great time at Jane Eyre. The adaptation was effective, without losing any of the essential detail. The performances were very strong, some blackly comical and others of course, emotional and moving. I would certainly recommend going to see a performance.

Very enjoyable play. Great actors. An inspiring and arresting production. The theater was comfortable and the staff were all very friendly. I really enjoyed the play - it is very well adapted and I thought the actors were extremely versatile being able to play so many different roles. Jane herself was outstanding! She made me believe every single word spoken and made my cry! a little. This is an excellent production! Recommend to all.

Jane Eyre. (2013)
Rating *****

After a troubled childhood devoid of love, a young woman takes the post of governess in a big old house. She soon falls in love with the owner, but he is not all that he seems and behind the corridors lurks a dark secret that threatens to destroy her happiness…

“A heroine who transcends every cliché” Jane Eyre is one of my favourite literary heroines, so I was keen to see an adaptation of this well-loved novel. As with any of the classics, new interpretations can be disappointing, but Bryony J. Thompson’s version had me riveted throughout.

The stage was simple-whitewashed walls (much like the cottage Jane lives in when she is school mistress), six chairs and two steps. Plain, perhaps to reflect Jane herself, but effective. Costumes too were white, with Mr Rochester’s black boots the only contrast. This intimate setting helped to invoke the intimacy that Jane shares with us as she tells her story.

The play itself was fast-paced, skimming over Jane’s childhood in just a few minutes, but managing not to lose any of the drama of the main story.

Although Jane (Helen Russell-Clark) and Mr Rochester (Rob Pomfret) play just the one character, the other four cast members take on all remaining roles, including Jane’s thoughts, which is a nice touch.

Russell-Clark is perhaps too pretty for the role of Jane, but her acting is sublime, perfectly capturing our heroine’s emotions throughout. Pomfret is a perfect Mr Rochester-rugged and brooding and exactly as Brontë herself describes.

There were a few misplaced lines, but it didn’t detract from the magic of Thompson’s interpretation, which is one of the best adaptations of classic literature that I have ever seen.

Reviewed by Michaela Clement Hayes

Remorse is the poison of life.

When Bryony J Thompson decided to do Jane Eyre she read the existing adaptations and didn’t like any of them – they didn’t seem true to the original text. In the end, Thompson decided to adapt the novel herself and created a new and fresh approach to the classic story by combining Charlotte Brontë’s original dialogue with the actual narrative. The whole cast tell the story, sharing Jane Eyre’s innermost thoughts with us as well as those of their own characters, in this narrative driven production. 

After her parents’ death, Jane Eyre is raised by an aunt who doesn’t like her and abuses her physically and emotionally. Jane’s situation does not improve much when she commences her education at Lowood School, where she suffers further privations and oppression. Her only friend Helen dies of tuberculosis. After completing her education Jane finds herself a governess at Thornfield Hall, teaching Edward Rochester’s French ward Adele. Soon she falls in love with her Byronic employer and Rochester seems to feel the same about her. They speak the same language. Jane Eyre considers her time at Thornfield Hall the happiest time of her life. However, Rochester is haunted by a strange mystery which will also affect his relationship with Jane. 

Set in 1840’s northern England, Jane Eyre follows the emotions and experiences of its character – Jane’s growth to adulthood and her love for the enigmatic Mr Rochester – which lends itself to the form Bryony J. Thompson chose for her play. The focus is on the unfolding of Jane’s moral and spiritual sensibility but the novel also contains social criticism and proto-feminist elements. Jane Eyre is a strong character who lives according to her own firm principles and is trying to find her place in the world.

The cast consists of only six actors taking over a variety of roles in this engaging production. Helen Russell-Clark and Rob Pomfret play just one character - Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester. Rob Pomfret is intense and charismatic as the mysterious Rochester. Helen Russell-Clark is excellent as the spirited, self-confident Jane who is anything but plain. Her scenes with Rochester are especially enjoyable. Lainey Shaw is very good as the hard and unjust Mrs Reed and the jolly Mrs Fairfax, the housekeeper of Thornfield Hall. Ludovic Hughes excels as Jane’s new found cousin St John Rivers. Katy Daghorn is a lovely Adele. Francesca Binefa is charming as Blanche Ingram and Diana Rivers, and somewhat mischievous as Grace Poole. 

Don’t miss this imaginative and highly enjoyable production! 

By Carolin Kopplin 

UK Theatre Network:

“I envy you, not knowing the story. It is one of the best books ever written,” I heard a man tell his girlfriend just as the play started. I absolutely agree.

I first read Jane Eyre at nine years old, and have now logged a total of eight times . I have watched the film adaptations, studied it, dreamed it and breathed it. However I have never cried during it, until now.

For those who don’t know the story, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is about orphaned Jane who, unwanted by her aunt and cousins, is sent to a charitable school in Yorkshire, before becoming a governess to a young French girl Adele at the stately Thornfield Hall. Owned by the elusive and imposing Mr Rochester, the house is hiding a dark secret. Jane battles social and class divisions, as well as her heart and growing feelings for her employer.

Bryony J. Thompson’s adaptation is quite different from any portrayal of Jane Eyre. The set is stark white, with three plain whitewashed walls, and a plain white floor. The actors are in white costumes, the girls’ hair is pinned back in identical styles, and they wear matching red lip stick. The only props are six chairs and the occasional book. The lack of visual distractions means you have no choice but to hang on to every single beautiful word.

The pace is fast, which it needs to be in order to fit the entire story in two hours. The six characters take on multiple characters, as well as narrating the story, and giving interchanging voices to Jane’s thoughts. The facial expressions are brilliant, and the change in accents is so believable you aren’t sure which ones have been put on. They move quickly but clearly through each scenario, describing every detail, every feeling and character description to the point where you forget that the stage is just a blank canvas. You laugh, stare in silence, cry, smile, nod and you clench your fists.

Jane Eyre is not so much a play as it is a combination of acting, narration, talking to the audience, reading out loud and music. Helen Russell-Clark is wonderful as Jane, Rob Pomfret is dazzling as Mr Rochester – the book sets out the two protagonists as plain and unattractive, but Russell-Clark and Pomfret are far from that. Watch out for their on-stage chemistry and the heart breaking dialogue- this is where my tears started, and didn’t stop until the closing minutes.

There’s a line in the play that says, “Beauty is in the eye of the gazer,” and this performance confirmed just that. Thompson’s Jane Eyre reminded me why I have loved Charlotte Brontë’s story and words for so many years. Excellent, in every way.

The Harker
by Alicia De Haldevang

Borough Belles

A bare alabaster stage and plain ivory costumes, merely hint at the period - in an excellent use of small space, they navigate their way through carefully chosen text, with only a few simple chairs as props – atmospheric lighting is their incredibly effective and subtle accompaniment throughout. There are good performances all round – with perhaps a little too much girlish hand holding at times, (rescued by some lovely one liners and quips from the supporting cast), yet it is the superb Helen Russell-Clark who keeps your attention throughout the play. Her perfectly placed words and note perfect gesturing, give her performance the weight and sincerity that a lead role requires. She tells Jane’s story with such truth and doe-eyed conviction that you cannot help but feel as captivated by her as Mr Rochester. 

Six actors, six chairs, six books and a little piano music are all that’s needed to evocatively create the gothic world of Charlotte Bronte’s novel in this piece of fringe theatre at its best. 

Helen Russell-Clark and Katy Daghorn in Jane Eyre at the Rosemary Branch theatre, London Photo: Bill Knight

In keeping with the humble heroine, this is one of the most modest of productions, with Bryony J Thompson turning economy to her great advantage as the skilful editing and fine acting allows us to use our imaginations to paint pictures rather than everything being literally spelt out.

Elegantly skipping from narration to dialogue, Thompson also maintains momentum by splitting chunks of description between the group in a game of lyrical tag, while her decision to keep the half dozen exposed on stage throughout the two plus hours ensures a wonderful fluidity.

All would count for naught, however, if Thompson was not blessed with a crack cast to vividly animate Jane’s romantic adventures.

As the ‘plain’ Ms Eyre, Helen Russell-Clark is a little too attractive but she does capture the interesting tension between subordinate governess and independent lady and is a worthy match for Rob Pomfret’s confident Mr Rochester who speaks and strides about with the perfect air of entitlement.

The Stage – Jonathan Lovett

Theatre Review – Jane Eyre at the Rosemary Branch

by Melissa Palleschi, Hackney Hive

Tucked away in the heart of the lovely , historical borough of Islington is the Rosemary Branch Pub and Theatre. It is one of those places that has its own character from the little pile of books they are selling for 50p to the quirky décor; it just all feels so English. So, what better place to put on one of England’s most beloved tales than in one of its most quintessentially English establishments? Charlotte Bronte’s classic Jane Eyre has been beautifully adapted and directed by Bryony J. Thompson with an outstanding cast who make this old classic more watchable than ever.

As the story goes, an orphaned Jane Eyre is sent to a charitable school in Yorkshire before taking up a governess position at Thornfield Hall. She is in charge of teaching Adele, a young, intelligent French girl who lives at the estate and is the child of Mr. Rochester’s ex lover, Celine who abandoned the child. Little does Jane know that within the walls of this big house lies a dark secret. Jane then has to come up against all sorts of obstacles as well as her deep and ever growing feelings for her master.

The stage was left pretty minimal save for a few wooden chairs and some steps at the back. The entire set was painted white and all the actors were dressed in white as well. With such a simple set design, the audience has to be pulled in by the performances and I certainly felt hoisted into their world. The performances across the board were engaging and heartfelt. It was also impeccably cast with Helen Russell-Clark giving a stunning performance as Jane. Her Jane is vulnerable, innocent but also played with conviction which had me mesmerized throughout. Her connection with Mr. Rochester played by Rob Pomfret was palpable and believable.

The supporting cast was strong as well. Katy Daghorn played an exuberant little Adele and then slipped into her other older characters seamlessly. This was something the entire supporting cast managed to do, moving in and out of their various roles effortlessly. Francesca Binefa played Blanche Ingram with great comedic timing as she snared at Jane and Mr. Rochesters’ exchanges.

She would then slip into the softer Diana Rivers who shows Jane great affection when she arrives tired and emaciated at her home. Lainey Shaw did a wonderful job in the roles of Mrs. Reed, Mrs. Fairfax and Hannah giving each one their own distinct voice as well as accents. Ludovic Hughe’s played a tightly wound St. John Rivers who showed great vulnerability when he eventually asks Jane for her hand in marriage but is rejected. You could feel the genuine disappointment and there was a great sense of genuine fondness between them.

This love story made my heart beat throughout the adaptation and it conjured up the same feelings of curiosity and anticipation that kept me on the edge of my seat when I first read the novel many moons ago. It is an enjoyable, heart-warming and captivating night out at the theatre.


by Aline Waites for remotegoat on 23/04/13 

My first experience of Jane Eyre was in a movie made in 1943 with Joan Fontaine in full make up as Jane and Orson Welles unnecessarily rude as Rochester. I really hated the story ever since - never being able to get these images out of my head.

However, this adaptation by Bryony J. Thompson is quite different and surprising. Nothing dark and gloomy,- no dwelling on the heroine's terrible childhood, but giving the whole show an up feeling.

First of all the entire stage area is painted white. On stage there are six white chairs occupied by sixactors all dressed in white and reading. There is no single narration, there is a mix of narrative voices by the entire company led by the lovely Helen Russell-Clark who plays Jane. This Jane is not a dowdy one, she is beautiful but unmade up and her pale face is in contrast with the other three girls who are all wearing full slap. 

It is the very first time that I have actually felt that Jane is a real person worthy of sympathy. Thompson, the adaptor/ director/designer has done an amazing job adapting the book and casting actors who can handle the shared narration and remain on stage throughout playing the different characters. Only Helen Russell-Clark and Rob Pomfret as Jane and Rochesteer keep the same roles for the entire play.

These are a couple of truly charismatic performances. Russell-Clark without make up is still not really plain enough and Rochester is not as odd looking as the way he is described, but the two of them have good chemistry as they spar together with words. We feel that these two people are in an equal relationship despite her lowly state and his exalted one. They are a feuding couple much more modern than the Victorians usually presented. This Jane is a really feisty girl and Pomfret brings humour to the role of Rochester. The final scene has lots of laughs. This helps to make the production moving - we care about what happens to Jane instead of wanting to strangle her.

But all the casting works. Katy Daghorn is enchanting as the unfortunate Helen who dies of Tuberculosis . 'Dying young I shall escape great suffering'. (Elizabeth Taylor played this in the forties movie) and later gives us a very lively French Adele. Francessca Benefa is frightening as Grace Poole and glamorous as Blanche Ingram. Lainey Shaw shows enormous versatility as the cheerful, homely Mrs Fairfax and madwoman Bertha and Ludovic Hughes plays the insufferably pompous clergyman St John Rivers as well as the vengeful Mason.

This production is a success in every way. Congratulations to the stunning actors and the excellent creative team.

Put simply, this is a brilliant production. Bryony J. Thompson has done an excellent adaptation and treated the book with the respect it deserves. I just don’t know how she managed to get so much of it into a 2 ½ hr. play without destroying it, but she shows us how difficult Jane’s situation in life is and has then retained the majority of the dialogue between Jane and Rochester which, for me, just sparkles. Being in such an intimate theatre the acting and atmosphere is intense and I almost felt as though I was taking part; when St. John Rivers was browbeating Jane to marry him I wanted to shout out ‘Don’t do it, he doesn’t know what love is!’. Whether you know the book or not doesn’t matter, this is a great evening’s entertainment, just go along and enjoy it. 
Mary Geddes (Bronte Society on

What a great production! Took my 11 year-old daughter and it was a perfect way to experience Jane Eyre together, with a beautifually dramatic spoken narrative supporting the fun romantic repartee. And only inches from the actors in an intimate space. Helen/Jane is a generous actress and gave the great cast a lot to play off; a memorable experience.
John Gonglewski (On

Published: 25 April, 2013 
Rosemary Branch Theatre

I RAVED about Bryony J Thompson’s production of Romeo and Juliet last year on these pages, so arrived at my favourite Islington pub theatre with high hopes for her latest production.

The Rosemary Branch’s artistic associate explains that adapting Jane Eyre has occupied her for well over 10 years, with notes in the programme proclaiming that she has found a way to ensure that “the book literally comes to life”.

I read that quote, tongue in cheek, puzzled at the use of the word “literally”, wondering if I was about to be presented with some sort of novelty human book costume or a set constructed out of giant turning pages. Fortunately, I found no such silliness.

Thompson’s stripped-back simple style sees the stage a bare white shell, furnished with only six chairs, the small cast dressed only in the plainest of white frocks. Before a word is even spoken, the production’s aesthetic is already evocative of the ideas of ghosts, marriage and religion – all the themes one associates with Charlotte Bronte’s classic.

The clever mixture of tense in the dialogue presents the audience with a witty and frequently amusing combination of live action and narration, addressing the viewer as reader, gently knocking down the fourth wall fluently and seamlessly.

In the lead role, Helen Russell-Clark subtly grows older, wiser and stronger as Jane’s life unfolds, reaching a crescendo which felt almost like a musical, with the four female cast members on the cusp of breaking in to a routine celebrating female empowerment. (I found myself humming Beyoncé’s Single Ladies to myself during the interval)

Franscesca Binefa’s ability to switch between her roles as narrator, Blanche Ingram and other characters is both amusing and impressive, and adds a quirky charm and light comic relief.

As promised, Thompson has indeed found a way to bring such a well-loved and well-known classic “literally” to life. Whether you’re familiar with the book or not, this cleverly produced potted biography is engaging, absorbing and deeply moving. I recommend taking a handkerchief.
Bryony J Thompson’s adaptation of the classic Bronte novel retains the detail and dramatic tension of the original text.
Review by Rena Niamh Smith.

Unfolding in the upper rooms of the Rosemary Branch pub, tucked away up a set of narrow winding stairs, Bryony J. Thompson’s passionate and vigorous adaptation of Bronte’s Jane Eyre retained the classic novel’s original claustrophobia and intrigue without losing out on the details. An ambitious project, Thompson’s edit was both an enactment and a reading. She fragmented lines from the novel and split dialogue and narration between the six cast members, who spoke both their lines and the descriptions of their characters. With choreographed dexterity, the four supporting actors (Franscesca Binefa, Katy Daghorn, Ludovic Hughes and Lainey Shaw) nimbly switched roles and places in the limited space, driving suspense until the final moment of reunion.

A spotlight shone on the main character and her negotiation between morality and happiness, with all the original scenes between Jane Eyre (Helen Russell-Clark) and Mr Rochester (Rob Pomfret) left intact in as much as the distilling process might allow. Human error and intimacy played out in these tender moments. A single girl looking for a happily ever after, Russell-Clark’s animated Jane kissed, cried, flirted and bickered like any modern Carrie Bradshaw, except that Jane is just 19.

Performed on a parchment-coloured set with a colourless costume with a wooden border, books were the only props used, bringing the essence back to the text at all times. Directing Romeo and Juliet at the Rosemary Branch last year, Thompson is adept at re-imagining the classics in a small, live space. Jane Eyre has been a personal love she has been considering for stage production for ten years. That the suspense was kept at a high right through to the final line testifies to the success of that ambition’s final completion. A must-see.

Jane Eyre runs at the Rosemary Branch Theatre, 2 Shepperton Road, London, N1 3DT, until 5th May 2013. 

More from the Bronte Society:
"This particular adaptation of Jane Eyre was stunning. The acting was superb and Bryony’s script, staying true to the book, was so moving and with clever use of narrative, seamlessly propelled the story on with dramatic effect. Quite frankly we were mesmerized from start to finish!

So there you have it – top marks from members of the Brontë Society! It was so nice also to meet you all and we wish the company every success. It was a privilege to witness such a brilliant production. Thank you all very much."

Jane Eyre at the Rosemary Branch
by Ollie Moody, 2nd May 2013

Why bother? Why would you even try to adapt Jane Eyre into a dramatic production? The novel is an almost perfect period piece preserving the architecture of a specific moment in English prose, whose effect largely depends on the possibilities of the first person narrator’s voice and the unimaginable ugliness of its two central characters. You may as well adapt it into a milkshake.

"They get along famously, except that his insane, murderous wife is locked in the attic. Oh, did I? I did, didn't I." (credit for all pictures: Bill Knight)

But still directors try, drawn in by the sheer gravitational force of the plot and the protagonists. You can see their point, on a basic level: the core of Jane Eyre is powerfully theatrical. For those who have not read the book, here is a brief, teasing summary: a young, orphaned governess is engaged to look after a French child at a sulking hall somewhere in the north Midlands. She is “plain”, a typically rubescent Victorian euphemism for “ugly”. 

So, fortunately, is the master of Thornfield Hall, Edward Rochester, “more remarkable for character than beauty”. They get along famously, except that he is a dissipated aristocrat and she is a member of the serving classes, and he has his insane, murderous wife locked up in the attic. Oh, drat, did I? I did, didn’t I. Shucks. Serves you right for not reading it, really.

"Passion and madness have irresistible blockbuster appeal, but they are not really the point of the book"

It’s all good theatre. The flesh of the text, however, could be a case study in the difference between drama and the novel. It is intensely subjective, often ponderous, always constructed with a fastidious patience. It is also a paean to a peculiarly tough kind of Christian virtue that does not lend itself easily to the stage, a self-sufficiency that accords a space to love and laughter in spite of its rigour. Passion and madness have dramatic blockbuster appeal, but they are not really the point of the book.

Bryony J Thompson’s thoughtful adaptation for the Rosemary Branch Theatre, above a pub in Islington, faces up to these challenges squarely where many other directors have taken the easy way out. The heroine’s narration is broken up between the principal actress, Helen Russell-Clark, and three other women who take on the supporting female roles. 

"The decision to break up Jane's voice means the story can move swiftly, leaping from tableau to tableau with only a slight stop-motion jerkiness"

While this doesn’t quite convey the po-faced letter-home-from-school self-consciousness of Jane’s prose, full of artificial devices and natural grace, it does the job about as well as a stage version could. It means the story can move swiftly, leaping from tableau to tableau and getting through 300-odd pages of action with only the occasional stop-motion jerk. 

As for the novel’s obtrusive, anachronistic meditation on what it is to be a good Christian, Thompson gives it its due without dwelling on it to the point where it holds up the production. The scenes in the Rivers’ house, which, let’s be frank, do have their proselytic and boring moments in the book, are given about 20 minutes, which is almost exactly what they deserve. St John, who will to most modern eyes seem almost as mawkish as he is pompous, is handled sympathetically by Ludovic Hughes.

The plot is taut and doggedly faithful to the novel; Thompson’s copy must be full of pencil marks. The acting is quality, particularly for fringe theatre. Russell-Clark grasps the humour in the title character that completely eluded Mia Wassikowska in the 2011 film version. If at times Jane Eyre appears a bit too conscious of her own nobility or a bit girlish, this is a fair reading of the character's minor faults. The four supporting actors are dexterous and work well in ensemble, and stylised scenes such as the flashes of Jane’s childhood and the party at Thornfield Hall with the Ingrams are beautifully executed.

"Rob Pomfret's Rochester is an utterly convincing and genuinely imaginative piece of acting"

But where this Jane Eyre really does something more than take the original’s name in vain is in Rob Pomfret’s performance as Rochester. Presented with an awkward gift of a character, Pomfret is hugely compelling and unexpectedly funny. The scene where he pretends to tell the fortunes of his guests in the guise of a gipsy woman is superb theatre, and throughout he carries himself with massive, brooding dignity and a strange sort of fire-hardened optimism. It is an utterly convincing and genuinely imaginative piece of acting.

Thompson’s Jane Eyre is clearly born of a deep, intelligent love for the book. Given the choice between reading it and watching this adaptation, I would read it. But I’m a busy man; the play takes a tenth of the time, and gives an honest, moving portrayal of Jane’s inner life as well as the dramatic pyrotechnics. Catch it while you can.

Four stars

Jane Eyre is on at the Rosemary Branch Theatre, N1, until May 5

Romeo & Juliet.

Rozzy Unwin:

I last saw the world’s most famous love story in a fully immersive, promenade production across the sprawling stone floors of Bristol Cathedral. Every scene was in a different space, with a brace of thirty actors, the most decadent of costumes, and a resident string quartet throughout. Bryony J Thompson’s production at the Rosemary Branch pub theatre could not be more different. Just seven actors portray all of Shakespeare’s characters, costumes are simple (and 85% recycled), and the set is almost bare. Yet Thompson’s inventive direction shows this is not a play that requires even a hint of decadence. Love, as the play’s force of nature, is rich enough.

Carla Kingham and Benjamin Ireland portray the star-crossed lovers with a combination of wild desire and childish inexperience. The theatre itself (a small black box with 50 seats) complements the pair’s intense rapport–overcome by emotion, Romeo hurtles into the aisle on several occasions to deliver a love-induced monologue, almost bursting from the theatre’s confinements. It’s a clever use of space where space is scarce.

The device of multi-rolling – often a confusing disaster – is made engaging with rapid costume changes, best exemplified in Catherine Rowney’s easeful transformations from chummy Benvolio to sharp-tongued Lady Capulet. Other strong supporting roles come from Philip Honeywell as a glowering Tybalt and Barry Mcstay, who delivers an animated Queen Mab speech. I wasn’t entirely convinced by Mark Rush’s portrayal of Juliet’s nurse – at times it felt faintly pantomimic, which detracted from the tender relationship the two supposedly share.

A definite highlight of this production is its clever use of music. Avoiding Shakespearean lyres and lutes, the modern, synthesised tones floating from the upstage decks were unexpectedly touching. Jason Eddy, who doubled as the play’s DJ and Friar Lawrence, was a constant and silent observer of events. He served as a blinking reminder of the Friar’s tragic and accidental orchestration of the lovers’ suicide.

As mentioned in the director’s note, money, space and time may be limited for this production, but imagination and talent are not. Two flickering lightbulbs stage left, extinguishing just as Romeo and Juliet perish by their own hands, is a beautiful final touch.

Romeo and Juliet runs at the Rosemary Branch Theatre, N1 until 4 November 

Howard Loxton (British Theatre Guide):
Romeo and Juliet 

“Can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France” asked Shakespeare, and feared to “disgrace, with four or five most vile and ragged foils, the name of Agincourt”. He had the wide spaces of the Globe. How much more challenging for our fringe theatres take on presenting Shakespeare when he asks for action on a large scale.

Romeo and Juliet doesn’t ask for armies like Henry V, but how do you fit Verona’s busy public square and the brawling factions of the Montagues and Capulets into the tiny Rosemary Branch? Will the front row get a foil in the face?

In fact director Bryony J Thompson not only solves the problem of staging this tragedy of “star crossed” lovers in a small space but keeps the playing time within Shakespeare’s “two hours traffic” if you exclude the interval. Admittedly the text is cut, necessary partly because with a cast of only seven, some characters have had to go and all except the title roles are doubled or trebled.

There is no Lord Capulet or Lady Montague, no Peter and no Rosaline (though for a moment I did think Catherine Rowney’s cross-gender Benvolio might be she). If really needed lines are reassigned. With no crowd to fill Verona’s square the brawls become more personal affairs that can take place in an alley and when knives replace swords the weapons demand less fighting space.

Her own designer, Thompson, has dressed it in no fixed period but in a romantically evocative Byronic style with tight black jeans, turned-down boots and well-cut tunics and waistcoats that sometimes lash diamonds or gold buttons to show aristocratic wealth. She has deftly devised the doubling so that an actor can go off, or even just turn around, and add a skirt or cape to change character instantly, at the same time clearly marking the change to the audience.

She opens with an elegant stage picture: two white drapes stretch out from a fairy-light-lit rail to sweep down to the audience flanking a rich red carpet. Behind them is a matching red scaffold that can serve as Juliet’s balcony and tomb. Quite why a man’s face should be peering out between them is baffling. In a programme note she tells us that she’s adding a sound score and he could have been the DJ. In fact he turns out he is the Chorus.

Jason Eddy (who is in fact responsible for the sound score together with stage manager Jim Seconde) is a clearly-spoken Chorus and would be even better if he wasn’t made to ignore the audience and fiddle with the drapes. They are irritatingly rearranged continually, and quite unnecessarily, to mark a change of location.

It is a young cast, so, appropriately, Juliet seems very young indeed, a girl still dreaming of her fairytale Prince Charming. Carla Kingham and her Romeo Benjamin Ireland give us a pair of romantic lovers, not teenagers driven by sexual excitement. That first kiss from Romeo is probably her first real kiss ever, though she doesn’t seem as surprised by it as you might expect.

Mercutio has become his friends’ tame entertainer: Barry McStay plays him as an Irish performing monkey, all gesture, so busy punctuating the Queen Mab speech with jabs and jerks that you don’t hear it. He can do better, and does as a restrained and elegant Paris.

Philip Honeywell is a dark, rather sinister Tybalt and there is a lovely Nurse from Mark Rush. He gives us a slow-thinking country woman, played just as one of Shakespeare’s company’s clowns might have performed it. He doesn’t bother with bosoms and indeed the lines about being Juliet’s wet-nurse are cut so maybe it is not to intended as cross-gender, which is perhaps why his top half plays feminine his bottom half rushes abound like a young man.

The story is clearly told and some of the verse comes through strongly but these young actors don’t yet have the projection and clarity to play with their backs to the audience or in unlit areas as is often demanded of them and Romeo’s diction is too often swamped by his emotion.

The director’s “experiment” with sound is in fact in a continuing tradition. The cinema film score was itself a continuation of previous theatre practice and musical support seems back again now in mainstream theatre. Here she doesn’t use themes that compete with the verse but mainly a background murmur or pulse with an increase in volume to heighten emotion.

However, the actors do need to cap it and they can’t yet do so. What they lack in experience and voice power they make up for with energy and enthusiasm and as the run continues may find a better balance.

Director Bryony Thompson loves this play and you cannot help noticing it. There are so many beautiful images and lovely details to her production. With little means she creates a Shakespearean universe populated by a cast of only seven, the actors doubling and trebling roles - except for “the star-crossed lovers” who actually appear as young as Shakespeare had conceived them. The play is cut and so are various characters but they are not really missed in this fresh and vibrant production. 

As we enter the auditorium Jason Eddy already provides the musical background sitting at a sound board in the centre of the stage, flanked by two white drapes that are flowing towards the audience. Music is very important in this production, setting the mood and adding to emotional scenes. Sometimes the actors have problems projecting over the musical score but this will improve during the run. Eddy plays the Chorus, his central position allowing him to view the story unfold and to comment on it. He is also cast as the Friar and the Prince, characters in elevated positions, close to God. I wonder if this casting was deliberate. As the Prince he is not amused witnessing another brawl between the Montagues and the Capulets in the streets of his Verona. Mercutio, played to full comic effect by Barry McStay, is unfazed by the scolding. The fight scenes (Fight Director: Bret Yount) are excellent with knives replacing swords, which would cause a problem in this intimate space. Interestingly, the Nurse is male in this production. Mark Rush makes the most of his ambivalent character as he is nurturing and hilariously funny at the same time. 

Juliet as played by Carla Kingham seems incredibly young and vulnerable but sprightly and energetic at the same time. Benjamin Ireland is a perfect romantic hero as the smitten Romeo whose love for Juliet makes him love the whole world including his former enemies – the Capulets. Unfortunately, his sentiment is not shared by Juliet’s vengeful cousin Tybalt – an impressive and intense performance by Philip Honeywell - and the tragedy runs its course when Romeo slays Tybalt and is banished from Verona. Catherine Rowney plays Romeo’s good friend Benvolio with tender compassion and switches into the hard and indifferent Lady Capulet within a split second. Rowney's depiction of Juliet’s mother as a cold and harsh woman who expects discipline and obedience without showing any regard for her young daughter’s feelings is unsettling. Barry McStay adds a depth to his portrayal of Paris that is missing in his Mercutio. Jason Eddy, a very charismatic actor who usually plays romantic leads, brings a new quality to the Friar – gentle but with an underlying fire and passion. 

This production is suspenseful, fast-paced and includes a rousing musical score. It is by no means perfect but there are so many fresh and new ideas and the ensemble is so enthusiastic that it is easy to overlook the few things that need to be improved. One of the many poetic scenes, devised by Bryony Thompson, shows the Friar collecting herbs in his garden whilst describing their special faculties. An image that is not easy to forget.

By Carolin Kopplin (UK Theatre Network)

Published: 18 October, 2012

LIMITED space and funds has forced – or rather encouraged – director Bryony Thompson to be particularly creative with the small stage above the Rosemary Branch for her production of Romeo and Juliet.

Her small cast play several roles each, their simple yet adaptable costumes are made from recycled materials, and the set is basic and striking, yet cleverly and subtly manipulated.

Modern music and atmospheric instrumentals play continually throughout the production, to create a layered “live mixed soundscape”. The effect is that the carefully considered soundtrack plays the role of an additional character, extending Jason Eddy’s role from narrating as the Chorus (and as the Friar) to DJ and musician.

The lead roles are played proficiently and passionately, but it is the supporting roles that really impress in this show. Barry McStay injects personality and humour into his role as Mercutio. Catherine Rowney’s ability to switch from knife-wielding, strutting Benvolio to elegant stern Lady Capulet is remarkable and manages to avoid confusion.

Mark Rush adds a touch of flamboyant and heart-warming “Irish Mammy” to the role of Juliet’s Nurse. His stand-out performance marks a first (and triumphant) leap from regular visitor at the Rosemary Branch ­to professional graduate performer.

As Thompson points out in her production notes, this is a story we all know well, and a text we all grappled with at school. However, her cast of seven clearly love and live every word of the romantic tragedy, and pack punches with key lines delivered with gusto, without a hint of cheesy “modern retelling”.

The innovative use of soundtrack, the young, engaging cast, and even the way the theatre directors greet you warmly on arrival at the pub, all make this an accessible production the whole audience connects with.

Greg Wetherall

Being such a mainstay and fixture of the theatrical landscape, any performance of Romeo and Juliet begs the question: what can be offered that is new? 

That goes double when the budget is shoestring, the stage small, and the setting an intimate pub theatre, as in this production at the Rosemary Branch Theatre. 

Well, for starters, the number of actors has been condensed to a mere seven. All the cast portray multiple characters, with the exception of a consummate Romeo (Benjamin Ireland) and an excellent Juliet (Carla Kingham). 

This refinement has not resulted in any real sacrifices or casualties, save for Lord Capulet, whose lines have been absorbed by Lady Capulet. 

A live mixed soundscape has also been injected to bolster proceedings, although unfortunately, this is an experiment that doesn’t always succeed. The sound provides a perpetual hum which, occasionally, detracts rather than compliments the dialogue. 

It draws parallels with Baz Luhrmann’s film from 1996, which paired contemporary music with a contemporary setting. This production offers update in music alone, creating a distracting incongruity between the semi-contemporary score and the historically-sensitive environment.

Yet despite these misgivings, this is a spirited and competent rendition – especially in the second half, when it truly soars. Post-interval, there is a measured dynamic and execution that lifts the production from good to very good indeed, and special mention must go to the stand-out performances: Jason Eddy as The Friar, Mark Rush at the Nurse and Catherine Rowney, who is a powerhouse when depicting Lady Capulet. 

Romeo & Juliet
by William Shakespeare, Rosemary Branch Theatre
October 10 - November 4, 2012

The great thing about theatre pubs is the sheer imagination that goes into every production. They aren't very big, or have a lot of money to put on major productions, so each one has to step up the creativity to engage the audience, and this particular production of Romeo and Juliet at the Rosemary Branch Theatre in London's Islington does a good job.

With limited resources, director Bryony Thompson does a commendable job in a stripped down, sub-two-hour version of Romeo and Juliet. Apart from the two leads, each actor plays several parts, and the entire ensemble only numbers seven. In cutting the play, many lines get shoehorned onto other characters. For example both Romeo and Juliet lose a parent, and minor family members on both sides are cut. 

Juliet is played excellently by Carla Kingham, who seems a lot younger than other productions, much nearer the text as it was written. Kingham clearly understands how sheltered and protected Juliet is, and she subtly demonstrates that her yearning for freedom is more about rebellion than a real desire to escape. In essence, she gets the line between feisty and vulnerable just right.

Ben Ireland's Romeo at first feels too intense and romantic to be taken seriously, but improves in the second half as the plot heats up. He falls for Juliet easily, even after killing Tybalt, and being exiled he still swoons around like Bryon, contemplating his love for Juliet above all else, ignoring the fact he has lost his friend and murdered a man in one night.

Apart from the acting, the production is sensual and atmospheric. The music is essential to this production, with a loud score accompanying all the major scenes. One technical issue is that at points the music is perhaps too domineering and too loud. Jason Eddy, who acts as chorus and as the Friar is frequently found in the middle of the performance space acting as a DJ and as musician, with actors performing around him.

This embrace of modernity is very welcomed, seemingly influenced by the 1996 Baz Luhrmann film, however it contrasts with the costumes and scenery, which are very traditional. The men have flowing, open shirts, and the women appear in old looking knitwear. This juxtaposiiton works well, with elements of the old and new contrasting. Thompson also acts as producer and costume designer. Thompson's lighting is too dim at points, which adds to the intensity as all attention is focused on the actors, yet some of the cast seem put off by this.

A well-staged production, this take shows that Romeo and Juliet can be done with imagination and a new perspective, even if resources are scarce.

-Craig Melson

Hi. I brought my son and daughter to see R&J last night. Son (15) is doing it for GCSE, daughter (24) knows the Leonardo di Caprio version inside out. I (51) had never actually seen a production but vaguely knew the story. Just wanted to say that, even coming from our diverse outlooks, we all had the most amazing experience and were glued to our seats all the way through. We all loved that the minimal props prevented any distraction from the excellent acting. Thank you so much to all concerned. 
Helen Farrow 

Sit Down and Shut Up.
Because in the theatre, darling, sometimes you have to, like, know what words mean ’n’ stuff.

Written and performed by Bryony Thompson, Sit Down & Shut Up is a 45-minute one-woman show about Titian hair, being a dazzling actress, and using words like solipsistic. Bryony explains that she came up with this show because she is preparing for her lead role in Hedda – One Woman on the Brinkand therefore needs to practice being watched. Sharing her front of house experience – Bryony often is in charge of the box office – she fondly remembers latecomers and members of the audience who generously share details of their various illnesses with her when collecting their tickets. She is especially aggravated by spectators who ignore the bells: “The bells mean it’s time to sit down and shut up.”

Born in sunny California, Bryony moved to Milton Keynes with her English father and her Irish mother. Later, she attended college in Vermont, at Bennington – alma mater of many famous actors and writers. Bryony decided to live in Europe but first she had to become Irish which took three years – her potato allergy probably didn’t help. Today she is so English that her American friends cannot understand her any more.

Bryony’s show is funny and original. Her energy and charm hold your attention throughout the performance. I especially enjoyed the Shakespearian Hedda and the scene from The Seagull in Russian.
By Carolin Kopplin

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