Northern Ballet brings Jane Eyre back to the stage

It is one of Yorkshire's most famous novels. Now Sarah Freeman discovers how Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre has been given the Northern Ballet treatment.

Northern Ballet's Jane Eyre choreographed by Cathy Marston. Photo Emma Kauldhar.

There is a slight sense of déjà vu in the studios of Northern Ballet. Choreographer Cathy Marston is leading rehearsals, Javier Torres is channelling his best Mr Rochester and Hannah Bateman is perfecting her portrayal of Jane Eyre.

It was almost two years ago that Marston unveiled her dance adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel. Back then it was part of the company’s mid-scale touring programme, which meant in Yorkshire it was only seen by audiences at Doncaster’s Cast theatre.

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Such was the production’s success, the company was keen to include it on its main touring schedule and now with week-long runs at both Leeds Grand Theatre and the Lyceum in Sheffield it should be one of the highlights of the current season.

“Working with Cathy, I helped to create the role of Jane and it has been really good to revisit it,” says Hannah Bateman, who is one of Northern Ballet’s stalwarts, having joined the company in 2002. “It is familiar to many of us, but some of the cast are new to this production so we have had to work out how all the pieces of the jigsaw fit together again.

“I’ve always loved Jane Eyre. It is a fantastic story, one which has so many layers to it. I think that’s why so many people have read the original novel again and again. Each time you see something different and I think Cathy’s choreography really explores that.”

Marston’s vision of Jane’s journey from Lowood School to Thornfield Hall is faithful to the book, but it also includes a group of characters which might not be immediately familiar to Brontë fans.

While Grace Poole, Bertha Mason, Blanche Ingram and Helen Burns all play a part, Marston has introduced what she calls her ‘de-mans’ to the production. Partly it was a way of finding roles for the company’s male dancers, but it also addresses one of the novel’s major themes.

She says: “Jane is a solitary figure, but when I re-read the book I realised that actually she is never alone. Wherever she happens to be in life, she is haunted by the men in her past, whether it’s her father who died or Rochester who abandons her. That’s where the de-mans came from and once I realised that everything fell into place.”

Marston trained as a dancer at the Royal Ballet Upper School and had spells at classical companies in Zurich and Lucerne. However, she quickly realised that her first love was choreography and she has a very distinctive way of working.

“Cathy doesn’t just want you to act out the story,” says Bateman. “She really wants to explore the heart of a character. We spent a lot of time really thinking about how Jane would feel at those key moments in her life and it was from those emotions that we began to build a narrative.

“It’s lovely now to come back to the work we did two years ago. It feels like a really solid base and one that we have been confident to tweak for this new staging.”

Jane Eyre, Leeds Grand Theatre, March 7 to 14, 0844 848 2700; Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, April 10 to 14, 0114 249 6000.