Review by David Munro
JEAN Rhys' best-known novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, envisages how
Mrs Rochester comes to be living in the attic and causing grief
to Jane Eyre. The play, After Mrs Rochester, purports to
show how the novel came to be written.
It turns out in fact to be a study of feminine insanity, both
that of Mrs Rochester, or Bertha Mason, portrayed by Sarah Ball,
and, by inference, that of Jean Rhys - Diana Quick - who identifies
with Mrs Rochester and who, in the play, becomes her alter ego.
A situation which allows much dramatic scope for the two actresses.
Although the play is set at the time Jean Rhys is writing the
novel, the action flashes back through her life, to when she was
a white Creole girl, like Bertha Mason, in the Caribbean.
Her memories of the past haunt her and inhabit the room where
she is writing, a cluttered yet spartan set designed by Angela
Davies, which perhaps is intended to represent a projection of
the brain of the authoress.
All of which are meant to explain why she was obsessed by Jane
Eyre and Mrs Rochester and how she, her self, ultimately, although
beyond the time scale of the play, also ended her life as a mentally
The aura of unworldliness is accentuated by the fact that her
younger self is portrayed as another character haunting her present
day world and the dialogue between her and the younger Jean, played
by Emily Bruni, underline the reasons which made her a lonely
and disillusioned woman.
The young Jean is the elder's memory and she acts out incidents
in her life and her fantasies with the other members of the cast,
who play a variety of characters, including Jean's daughter, Jean's
lover, Ford Maddox Ford, and Mr Rochester.
The play is, in effect, a phantasmagoria of fact and fiction,
between which, at times, it is difficult to differentiate.
Whether it is my fault or that of the cast - some of whom have
changed from those in the West End - but I did not find the play
as convincing, nor as moving, as I felt it should have been and
which, as appears from the West End reviews, others have found
Syan Blake, James Clyde, Amy Marston and Simon Thorp played the
other characters summoned up by Jean's imagination, but none of
these, except for Simon Thorp, as Ford Maddox Ford, convinced
me as to the characters they were playing, nor, in fact, the justification
for their being there in the first place.
Perhaps, had I seen it in a smaller theatre, or in the first
flush of its West End run, I might have felt differently, but,
last night, I felt I was seeing several excellent actors in search
of a play.
The blame for this, I am afraid, must fall fairly and squarely
on the shoulders of Polly Teale, the authoress and director of
the piece, and I am disappointed that the pleasure I had anticipated
from what I had read of the play was denied me.
The production, at Richmond, was the start, I believe,
of a tour and it may be that, as that progresses, the parts may
coalesce into a whole once more, but I, for one, will not seek
to run After Mrs Rochester again
After Mrs Rochester, written and directed by Polly Teale;
Designer, Angela Davies; Lighting, Chris Davey; Movement director,
Leah Hausman; Composer, Howard Davidson. WITH: Diana Quick; Karen
Ascoe; Sarah Ball; Syan Blake; Emily Bruni; Amy Marston; Simon
Thorpe; James Clyde. Producer, Shared Experience. Richmond Theatre,
The Little Green, Richmond, Surrey.
Thurs 5th - Sat 7th February 2004
Evenings 7.45pm Mat: Sat 2.30pm.
Box Office: 020 8940 0088