AT the heart of the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s Bronte Festival is the SJT and New Vic Theatre’s co-production of Jane Eyre, adapted by Chris Bush, a Sheffield playwright with a York past drawn to Charlotte Bronte’s revolutionary spirit.
In the wake of the 2022 tour of Kirsty Smith and Kat Rose-Martin’s Jane Hair, re-imagining the Bronte sisters as modern-day Haworth hairdressers and Anne as a political blogger, Bush shows rather more “respect, but not reverence” in her nimble adaptation, eschewing a narrator in favour of letting Zoe Waterman’s cast of actor-musicians crack on with telling the story with a purposeful stride to rival Suranne Jones’s Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack.
Bush had first been offered Emily’s Wuthering Heights, but she was happier to accept the second invitation of sibling Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. “I’m just really drawn to Jane both as a character and a figure,” she reasoned. “I love her determination to take control of her destiny.”
Bush’s Jane Eyre, as characterised by Eleanor Sutton with her scraped-back hair, is a no-nonsense, unbending Yorkshire woman of exacting standards, passionate and impatient, no respecter of authority but resolute in observing her own moral code.
From orphaned childhood, she is in a hurry, on a mission, so much so that Bush suddenly stops a play so quick out of the traps that she decides it needs a refresher course in one of those “not reverent” insertions from the Bush playbook of playwriting.
Somewhat against the grain of a Bronia Housman design aesthetic that conveys Bronte’s harsh world by favouring minimalism to keep the scene-changing to a minimum, the pace to the maximum and Nao Nagai’s lighting to the fore, much emphasis is placed Simon Slater’s compositions and sound design rooted in “19th century pop hits” in the spirit of a folk musical or a Brecht and Weill play with music.
They serve the purpose of propelling a story of complexity yet clarity forward, or providing time to catch breath, but their profusion is counter-productive, ultimately slowing down this all-action, vibrant Jane Eyre, by contrast with Sally Cookson’s exhilarating, breathless production for the Bristol Old Vic/National Theatre that toured York and Leeds in 2017.
Like Cookson, Waterman has employed a multi role-playing cast, save for Sutton’s ever-resourceful, clever and fiery Jane Eyre and Sam Jenkins-Shaw’s restless, troubled Rochester, whose burgeoning chemistry climaxes in a beautiful, moving finale.
There is much to enjoy in the ensemble interplay of Tomi Ogbaro, Nia Gandhi, Zoe West and Sarah Groarke’s constant changes of character or returning with instrument in hand, the fleet-footed flow being aided by Will Tuckett’s movement direction.
Bush’s way with words elicits passion, shards of wit, nuggety northern nous, poetic darkness and light too, and amid the proto-feminist zeal, she highlights the mistreatment and lack of understanding of Bertha, the “mad woman in the attic”.
By having Sutton transform from Jane into Bertha with a loosening of her hair and a change of body shape, Bush makes a link between the two women, one whose free spirit cannot be contained despite the rigid class structure, the other forcibly restrained with terrible consequences.
Should you miss this week’s 7.30pm performances, tomorrow’s 1.30pm matinee or Saturday’s 2.30pm show, a second chance to breathe in this fresh Jane Eyre comes at the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme, from May 4 to 28. For more details of the SJT’s Bronte Festival, including Stute Theatre’s I Am No Bird in The McCarthy, today until Saturday, head to: sjt.uk.com.
NOW is the chance to go around the houses, the studios and workshops too, as recommended by Charles Hutchinson on his art beat.
Art event of the week and next week too: York Open Studios, today and tomorrow; April 9 and 10, 10am to 5pm
AFTER 2021’s temporary move to July, York Open Studios returns to its regular spring slot, promising its biggest event ever with more than 150 artists and makers in 100-plus workshops, home and garden studios and other creative premises.
Thirty new participants have been selected by the event organisers. As ever, York Open Studios offers the chance to talk to artists, look around where they work and buy works.
Artists’ work encompasses painting and print, illustration, drawing and mixed media, ceramics, glass and sculpture, jewellery, textiles, photography and installation art. Check out the artists’ directory listings and the locations map at yorkopenstudios.co.uk or pick up a booklet around York.
Classical concert of the week: York Musical Society, Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle, St Peter’s School Memorial Hall, York, tonight, 7.30pm
DAVID Pipe conducts York Musical Society in a performance of Gioachino Rossini’s last major work, Petite Messe Solennelle, composed when his friend Countess Louise Pillet-Will commissioned a solemn mass for the consecration of a private chapel in March 1864.
After Rossini deemed it to be a ‘poor little mass’, the word ‘little’ (petite) has become attached to the title, even though the work is neither little nor particularly solemn. Instead, the music ranges from hushed intensity to boisterous high spirits.
Caius Lee, piano, Valerie Barr, accordion, Katie Wood, soprano, Emily Hodkinson, mezzo-soprano, Ed Lambert, tenor, and Stuart O’Hara, bass, perform it tonight. Box office: eventbrite.co.uk/e/rossini-petite-messe-solennelle.
Late news: York Late Music, Stuart O’Hara and Ionna Koullepou, 1pm today; Bingham String Quartet, 7.30pm tonight, St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel, York
BASS Stuart O’Hara and pianist Ionna Koullepou play a lunchtime programme of no fewer than eight new settings of York and regional poets’ works by York composers.
In the evening, the Bingham String Quartet perform Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-flat major, Schnittke’s String Quartet No 3, York composer Nicola LeFanu’s String Quartet No 2 and Tippett’s String Quartet No 2. Box office: latemusic.org or on the door.
A dose of the blues: York Blues Festival 2022, The Crescent, York, today, bands from 1pm to 11pm
YORK Blues Festival returns for a third celebration at The Crescent community venue after two previous sell-outs. On the bill will be Tim Green Band; Dust Radio; Jed Potts & The Hillman Hunters; TheJujubes; Blue Milk; DC Blues; Five Points Gang and Redfish.
For full details, go to: yorkbluesfest.co.uk. Box office: thecrescentyork.seetickets.com.
Free community event of the weekend: YorkLife, Parliament Street, York, today and tomorrow, 11am to 9pm
YORK’S new spring festival weekend showcases the city’s musicians, performers, comedians and more besides today and tomorrow. Organised by Make It York, YorkLife sees more than 30 performers and organisations head to Parliament Street for this free event with no tickets required in advance.
York’s Music Venue Network presents Saturday headliners Huge, Sunday bill-toppers The Howl & The Hum, plus Bull; Kitty VR; Flatcap Carnival; Hyde Family Jam; Floral Pattern; Bargestra and Wounded Bear.
Workshops will be given by: Mud Pie Arts: Cloud Tales, interactive storytelling; Thunk It Theatre, Build Our City theatre; Gemma Wood, York Skyline art; Fantastic Faces, face painting; Henry Raby, from Say Owt, spoken poetry; Matt Barfoot, drumming; Christian Topman, ukulele; Polly Bennet, Little Vikings PQA York, performing arts, and Innovation Entertainment, circus workshops. Look out too for the York Mix Radio quiz; York Dance Space’s dance performance and Burning Duck Comedy Club’s comedy night.
Children’s show of the week: Oi Frog & Friends!, York Theatre Royal, Monday, 1.30pm and 4.30pm; Tuesday, 10.30am and 1.30pm
ON a new day at Sittingbottom School, Frog is looking for a place to sit, but Cat has other ideas and Dog is happy to play along. Cue multiple rhyming rules and chaos when Frog is placed in in charge.
Suitable for age three upwards, Oi Frog & Friends! is a 55-minute, action-packed play with original songs, puppets, laughs and “more rhyme than you can shake a chime at”.
This fun-filled musical has been transferred to the stage by Emma Earle, Zoe Squire, Luke Bateman and Richy Hughes from Kes Gray and Jim Field’s picture books. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Musical of the week: Blood Brothers, Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday to Saturday
AFTER a three-year hiatus, Sean Jones has returned to playing scally Mickey in Willy Russell’s fateful musical account of Liverpool twins divided at both, stretching his involvement to a 23rd year at impresario Bill Kenwright’s invitation in what is billed as his “last ever tour” of Blood Brothers.
Back too, after a decade-long gap, is Niki Evans in the role of Mickey and Eddie’s mother, Mrs Johnstone.
Blood Brothers keeps on returning to the Grand Opera House, invariably with Jones to the fore. If this year really is his Blood Brothers valedictory at 51, playing a Scouse lad from the age of seven once more, thanks, Sean, for all the years of cheers and tears. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.
York gig of the week: Imelda May, Made To Love Tour, York Barbican, Wednesday, 7.30pm
IRISH singer-songwriter and poet Imelda May returns to York Barbican for her third gig there in the only Yorkshire show of her first major UK tour in more than five years.
“I cannot wait to see you all again, to dance and sing together, to connect and feel the sparkle in a room where music makes us feel alive and elevated for a while,” says Imelda. “A magical feeling we can only get from live music. Let’s go!”
Her sixth studio album, last April’s 11 Past The Hour, will be showcased and she promises poetry too. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
At the treble: English Touring Opera at York Theatre Royal, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 7.30pm
ENGLISH Touring Opera present three performances in four nights, starting with Bach’s intense vision of hope, St John Passion, on Wednesday, when professional soloists and baroque specialists the Old Street Band combine with singers from York choirs.
La Boheme, Puccini’s operatic story of a poet falling in love with a consumptive seamstress, follows on Friday; the residency concludes with Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel, a send-up of corruption and sloth in government that holds up a mirror to the last days of the Romanovs. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Play of the week outside York: Jane Eyre, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, Friday to April 30
CHRIS Bush’s witty and fleet-footed adaptation seeks to present Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre to a fresh audience while staying true to the original’s revolutionary spirit.
Using actor-musicians, playful multi-role playing and 19th century pop hits, Zoe Waterman directs this SJT and New Vic Theatre co-production starring Eleanor Sutton as Jane Eyre, who has no respect for authority, but lives by her own strict moral code, no matter what the consequences. Box office: 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com.
Welcome home: Beth McCarthy, The Crescent, York, May 2, doors, 7.30pm
BETH McCarthy will play a home-city gig for the first time since March 2019 at The Crescent community venue.
Beth, singer, songwriter and BBC Radio York evening show presenter, has moved from York to London, since when she has drawn 4.8 million likes and 300,000 followers on TikTok and attracted 465,000 monthly listeners and nine million plays of her She Gets The Flowers on Spotify. Box office: myticket.co.uk/artists/beth-mccarthy.
Oh, and one other thing
MODFATHER Paul Weller’s gig on Tuesday at York Barbican has sold out.
THE debut Live For St Leonard’s fundraising music festival will take place over six days as part of York Food & Drink Festival 2021.
This charity event in aid of St Leonard’s Hospice will feature 24 live performances by musicians from York and the surrounding area, such as The Y Street Band, KissKissKill, Leather ’O, The Moths, Jonny & The Dunebugs and The Rusty Pegs.
The festivities will be held between 5pm and 9pm each evening in the event marquee in Parliament Street, where food and drink will be available from Food & Drink Festival participants.
All the live music events are free to attend, and St Leonard’s staff and volunteers will be collecting donations during the performances. Donations also can be made online via the Just Giving page at: justgiving.com/fundraising/live4stleonards
The music acts have been arranged by Chris Bush, York BID’s business manager, whose time has been donated by York BID in support of the York Food & Drink Festival. “We have a sensational line-up of bands and solo artists that’s not to be missed,” he says.
“As a fellow musician, it’s so encouraging to see so many talented individuals enthused to get involved and do their bit for charity. I’m confident we can raise a considerable sum. It’s also a pleasure to be supporting both York Food & Drink Festival and St Leonard’s Hospice, which are two enormously valuable organisations for our city.”
Michael Hjort, creative director of York Food & Drink Festival, says: “It’s a long-standing ambition of the festival to be active in the early evening and encourage those in the city during the day to stay on.
“Live music is a great way of doing this and at the same time we get to raise money for a great charity. We’re thrilled by the acts coming to play for Live for St Leonard’s.”
Emma Johnson, chief executive at St Leonard’s Hospice, says: “We’re delighted that Chris and the York Food & Drink Festival have chosen to support us with this fantastic event. It’s through the generosity of people in our community that we can continue to provide the best quality of end of care and support. Every donation really does make a difference to our patients and their families.”
Here is the Live For St Leonard’s line-up:
Friday, September 17 5pm, Joshua Murray; 6pm, Bryony Drake; 7pm, Big Bad Blues Band; 8pm, The Y Street Band.
Saturday, September 18
5pm, Tri-Starrs; 6pm, Phil Hooley; 7pm, Zak Ford; 8pm, KissKissKill.
Sunday, September 19 5pm, Simon Snaize; 6pm, Joshua Murray; 7pm, White Sail; 8pm, Leather ‘O.
Thursday, September 23 5pm, TBC; 6pm, Clive; 7pm, Penny Whispers; 8pm, The Moths.
Friday, September 24 5pm, Gary Stewart; 6pm, Fahrenheit V; 7pm, Andy Doonan; 8pm, Jonny & The Dunebugs.
Saturday, September 25 5pm, Jack Parker; 6pm, Miles Salter; 7pm, Smith n Wallace; 8pm, The Rusty Pegs.