Live promenade performances of Jane Eyre set to take place at Haddon Hall
PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 March 2017
© Ian Daisley
Romantic Haddon Hall takes on a familiar guise with a different twist to give modern audiences a compelling new take on Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel
Strolling is to take on a dramatic new dimension in the enchanting and atmospheric setting of Haddon Hall. On 4th, 5th and 6th April the Manners family home on the fringe of Bakewell will be the romantic backdrop for a series of live literary performances featuring Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre.
Filmgoers and TV drama buffs are well used to seeing one of the most famous books in the English language portrayed at the cinema and on the small screen. The first film version was directed in 1994 by Franco Zefferelli and featured Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt. Twelve years later a BBC drama series was screened, with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens in the leading roles. Then a second film, released in 2010, starred Dame Judi Dench and Michael Fassbender, and introduced newcomer Mia Wasikowska as Jane.
This latest interpretation is much punchier and more intimate than its predecessors, based on the principles of storytelling and literally immersing its small, live audiences in Brontë’s classic, yet sometimes cruel, love story. As its creator, Matlock-based storyteller and actress Gillian Shimwell, explains: ‘In the film and television productions, Haddon Hall has been dressed opulently, in authentic early 19th century style. For this new adaptation, the Hall’s peculiar and unassuming beauty corresponds to the character of Jane Eyre. Its sterner, stonier aspects reflect the conditions of her early life, and its passages and stairways whisper secrets.’
In Gillian’s version, just four characters take spectators on an hour-long walking tour through some of Haddon Hall’s most famous rooms to tell Jane’s spellbinding tale. Homely narrator Mrs Fairfax guides the audience through the courtyard to rooms such as the Banqueting Hall, the Tudor Parlour and the Long Gallery as they experience Jane’s initially tentative, ultimately touching, relationship with Mr Rochester.
They can feel the pain and humiliation of her schooldays at the hands of convincingly stern master Mr Brocklehurst, her arrival at Thornfield Hall as a shy yet spiritually strong governess and her first, rather formal, meeting with Mr Rochester before a roaring fire.
Their ‘intellectual sympathy’ develops apace, with touching scenes redolent with tension and emotion in the Long Gallery, leading up to Rochester’s proposal of marriage in the garden.
Sound effects from the couple’s abortive nuptials in the Chapel and Jane’s revelatory encounter with Mrs Rochester vividly convey the tragic and impossible situation in which the hero and heroine find themselves to spectators listening in the courtyard.
The final scene, in the unique setting of the Tudor Room, crackles with tenderness and triumph as the now blind Mr Rochester is reunited with his beloved Jane, who rather satisfyingly announces: ‘Reader, I married him’.
Of necessity, only the main points of the plot are covered – a challenge for any author – but the end result affords an extraordinarily intimate experience for both actors and audience.
‘I set out with the aim of making the audience feel part of the action, to be literally drawn into the story as they tour this beautiful, historic building,’ added Gillian, who has been a tour guide at Haddon for 16 years, and is involved in Matlock Storytelling Café at the town’s Imperial Rooms. ‘Haddon Hall is a theatre – it’s a living house, a family home, a place of music and culture – and has a particular kind of magic for people who come here. So many people who visit are fascinated by the many films and television programmes that have been made here, especially Jane Eyre, and Lady Edward Manners was very keen for us to devise this new interpretation, designed to bring both the story and this special setting to life.’
‘I wanted to convey the idea that while Jane is attracted to Mr Rochester, she also has deep sympathy for his wife’s plight, as well as great dignity, and returns to Thornfield on her own terms. She makes it clear she is not going to be cowed, but at the same time is very properly behaved.’
Two teams of local actors will be involved in the tours and Chinese visitors will also be well served, as they will be able to follow the live action and read the narrative in Mandarin as they tour Haddon.
The Hall reopens on 8th April, in addition to the performances on 4th to 6th April, others are planned for 20th to 22nd June. Advance booking is essential, and full details can be found at www.haddonhall.co.uk.