Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, adapted by Michelene Wandor

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BBC Radio 7, 24-27 August 2009
Cherry Cookson's retelling of the classic story focused on the appearance/ reality distinction with respect to Jane's (Sophie Thompson's) expectations of romantic happiness and her sufferings at the hands of Mr. Rochester (Ciaran Hinds). Rochester offers her dreams of perfect happiness, but such promises are based on a deliberate suppression of the truth about his past. Jane experiences considerable suffering as a result, but she is transformed from an innocent into a worldly-wise person, albeit someone who has become accustomed to disappointment.
But perhaps this was only one facet of the tale. Jane recounted her experiences through direct communication with the listener, through passages lifted almost verbatim from Bronte's text. These were delivered in the continuous present tense, suggesting spontaneous reactions rather than considered thoughts. While we could empathize with the naiveté of some of her ideas, we nonetheless came to identify with her as a source of mental strength - despite everything that happened to her, she summoned up sufficient reserves of energy to communicate directly with us. By comparison the other characters seemed insipid: Rochester tried to draw Jane into his patriarchal net, but discovered to his cost that she would not rise to the bait. Likewise Rivers (John Duttine), the oh-so-polite man of the cloth, tried to force Jane to accompany him on his missionary work in Africa. He showed little or no appreciation of her feelings, and was duly rebuffed. Jane constructed her own view of the world, in opposition to any conventional representations of femininity proposed to her by the male characters.
The importance of this was summed up in the final episode of this four-part adaptation. Jane rediscovered Rochester after a long time, only to find him blinded after an accident. Although physically incapable of seeing, Rochester gradually acquired second sight - understood in this instance as a keener awareness of the world around him and those inhabiting it. Once he possessed that insight, there was no reason why he and Jane could not be permanently united - particularly as Rochester's demented ex-wife had been conveniently disposed of in a fire. Moreover Rochester had undertsood the meaning of the "madwoman in the attic" - in other words, how his first wife's illness had been caused by his indifference towards her. Patriarchy allows for love, but only in masculine terms.
And what of Jane herself? Cookson's production suggested that, as she spoke largely in the present tense, she had difficulty making sense of the past. Perhaps this was due to immaturity - an inability to reflect on events and how they shaped her life. By the end of the production she acquired self-knowledge, and could now "live with and for what she loved." This was reflected in her speeches which now moved seamlessly between past and present.
Intelligently directed and performed by a competent cast who all seemed at home with their roles, this was a revelatory reading of Bronte's text.