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Quick and Potter ignite the stage in After Mrs Rochester



Review by Paul Nelson

IT HAS been a long time since I saw such an expertly staged play as After Mrs Rochester, currently at the Duke of York's Theatre.

The play is gripping, its cast superb and the setting a wonder of both simplicity and complication.

Everything is littered around the room in this classically told tale of the disintegration and loneliness of a writer.

Jean Rhys wrote probably her most famous book, The Wide Sargasso Sea, as a prequel to Jane Eyre.

She tells of the reason why the first Mrs Rochester was locked up in the attic, with only the surly Grace Poole for company, and hints on the reasons for her madness.

To put not too sharp a point on it, she had feller trouble, and the sinister Edward Rochester did little to preserve either her or her sanity.

As this play takes Mrs Rochester as a Jean Rhys alter ego, the scope for enthralling dialogue is wide open.

When you add that there are two Jeans, the elder and the younger, the younger going through all the events that produced the elder, the scope widens further.

The author, Polly Teale, who also directs the play, has not shied away from the possibilities and the results are enthralling.

As you would expect it has given really intriguing chances for the cast and they grasp the nettle with both hands.

There is not a weak performance in the play and, in the case of the two Jeans, the two performances are striking. Diana Quick and Madeleine Potter strike sparks off each other that ignite the theatre, the play and the audience.

A great contribution to the event is the lighting plot of Chris Davey, whose sky turns from the heat of sunsets in Jamaica to the dullness of Devon and the freezing open skies of Yorkshire.

He manipulates the shadows of the actors to stunning effect making the show at all times a developing and fascinating event to behold.

This is a play to savour and treasure, and I would expect it to have a healthy run. Do go to see it.

After Mrs Rochester by Polly Teale, Directed by the author, Design Angela Davies, Movement director Leah Hausman, Composer Howard Davison, Lighting by Chris Davey. WITH: David Annen (Father, Lancelot), Sarah Ball (Mrs Rochester), Syan Blake (Tite, Maudie), Hattie Ladbury (Mother, Stella), Amy Marston (Daughter, Jane Eyre), Madeleine Potter (young Jean), Diana Quick (Jean), Simon Thorp (Mr Rochester, Ford Madox Ford). A Shared Experience Production presented by Ambassador theatre Group and Maidstone Productions at The Duke of York's Theatre, St Martin's Lane, London WC1. Tickets 020 7836 5122.

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