32: After Mrs Rochester

22 Apr

Polly Teale has a fascination for the mad woman, locked away, shut up and silenced. This wild, irrepressible female featured in Bronte, in her adaptation of Jane Eyre and in her play about the life of Jean Rhys: After Mrs Rochester.

Jean Rhys was the author of Wide Sargasso Sea, written as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and telling the story of Mrs Rochester, the mad wife locked in the attic. Like the fictional Mrs Rochester, Jean Rhys was born in the West Indies to an impoverished white family, looked down upon by both the White and Black communities.

Reading After Mrs Rochester

In After Mrs Rochester, Polly Teale has a scene with Ella (Jean’s name when she was a girl) and a Jamaican friend.

TITE: Me hear you all poor like beggar. That old house so leaky you run with a calabash every time it rain. […]

ELLE: Liar. You’re a liar.

TITE: You eat salt fish. No money for fresh fish. You got holes in your shoes. I seen them when you take them off to swim.

Later in the play, the adult Jean (who often acts as the play’s narrator and is able to see her younger self on stage) says:

JEAN: Have you noticed how it is always rich people who tell you that money isn’t important. Sitting in their beautiful homes in their expensive clothes they tell you that money is nothing but a nuisance. Of course, if you talk to anyone who’s ever wondered  where the next week’s rent is coming from they’ll tell you the truth. How anyone can expect a decent human impulse, a single altruistic thought from someone with holes in their shoes I do not know. Poverty does not make you brave and resourceful it makes you jealous and angry and ashamed.

After Mrs Rochester is an exciting play. Its blend of biography (Jean Rhys’s life), the fiction of Jane Eyre and Polly Teale’s story telling make for a rich theatrical experience.

Publisher: Nick Hern Books

Cast: minimum of 6F, 2M

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2 Responses to “32: After Mrs Rochester”

  1. Paul Osuch April 29, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

    I still remember seeing that play when it had a run on the West End. In some ways it seemed wrong that such a rich textured play should be on the West End competing against “The Mousetrap” and “Mamma Mia” but somehow it worked because it at the time it was so unique in the theatrical landscape.

  2. Tina August 26, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

    Alumnae Theatre Company in Toronto (Canada) is mounting a production of “After Mrs. Rochester”, September 23 – October 8, 2011. See press release on website at http://www.alumnaetheatre.com, the Facebook event After Mrs. Rochester, and read the company blog at http://alumnaetheatre.wordpress.com

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