Re-imagining the Brontes – five of our favourites

Jane Eyre - July 17-22

A new version of Jane Eyre comes to the Theatre Royal this July, one described by the Daily Mail as “theatre at its most imaginative.” Incorporating physical theatre, music and movement, it re-imagines Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece for the stage, digging into the trailblazing feminist aspects of the novel.

But taking inspiration from the Bronte sisters to create something new is a bit of a tradition. We’ve picked a couple of our favourite examples, from a West End musical to a 1940s zombie movie…

 

Kate Bush

Heathcliff, it’s me, Cathy, come home, I’m so cold! Let me in-a-your window…

Kate Bush has always been one to follow her own path (it’s hard to believe that she wrote The Man With The Child In His Eyes aged just 13). Writing a number one hit inspired by Emily Bronte’s novel, in which she plays Cathy’s ghost and calls eerily through the window at a sleeping Heathcliff? All in a day’s work.

 

Wide Sargasso Sea

Our version of Jane Eyre gets to grips with the main character’s status as one of the early feminist heroines – but director Sally Cookson isn’t the first person to take that approach. In 1966, Jean Rhys wrote Wide Sargasso Sea, a novel that fleshes out the character of Bertha, Jane Eyre’s ‘madwoman in the attic.’

Rhys uses Bertha to take a long hard look at power relations between men and women, asking what really led to her being locked away in the first place, and the resulting novel won her a Booker prize. It would later be turned into a movie starring Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall.

 

Rebecca

You might have seen Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca when it was here last year. If so, you might have noticed a few similarities with the story of our Jane.

Both Bronte and du Maurier were addressing issues of female power and independence, but there are some more obvious links between the two stories. The gothic setting, the dashing gentleman who turns out to have a previous wife who’s still capable of causing trouble for our heroine, and (of course) the climactic fire. Thornfield Hall and Manderley have a lot in common, and it’s no wonder that a number of critics have identified Jane Eyre as one of du Maurier’s biggest inspirations.

 

Heathcliff

Cliff Richard starred in this 1996 musical, telling the life of the brooding Wuthering Heights antihero – a show which Cliff conceived and commissioned himself.

Although critics were less than impressed (going so far as to call it “living dull”), the show broke box office records. With music by Tim Rice and John Farrar and a script partly written by the star (with a little help from Charlotte Bronte), it spawned a hit single, Be With Me Always, as well as a studio album co-starring Olivia Newton-John.

Obviously, Cliff strongly identified with the dark and tormented gothic lover – even if it caught the rest of us by surprise.

 

I Walked With A Zombie

From Cat People to The Body Snatcher, Val Lewton was one of the most prolific horror movie producers in 1940s Hollywood. The studio’s marketing department would hand him a title, and he would come up with a story to suit it.

When they gave him ‘I Walked With A Zombie’, Lewton made the slightly counter-intuitive step of turning to Jane Eyre for his (very loose) inspiration.

Inspired by the notion of the madwoman in the attic, he tells the story of Betsy, a nurse who travels to the Caribbean to care for the sick wife of her new boss. As she falls in love with her moody employer, she discovers that the sickness affecting her patient is supernatural in nature. The sick wife comes between the two lovers, in a clear re-tread of Bertha’s role in the novel – although the voodoo priests who turn up at the end are admittedly something of a departure.

Nadia Clifford (Jane Eyre) and Tim Delap (Rochester) in Haworth, home of the Bronte Sisters
Photo: Ellie Kurttz

See how the cast and creative team have re-imagined Jane Eyre, when it arrives here in July. Tim Delap, who plays Mr Rochester, hopes that the unconventional staging will highlight the themes that the cast are trying to bring out. He explains: “It will hopefully bring audiences and readers back to it and change the opinion of the book for those of us that thought maybe it was slightly twee or romantic.

“There is a real meeting of minds. The way she meets and confronts him, she stands up to him and that changes him, it’s a really fascinating relationship. The novel is so modern in many ways – it’s full of girl power!”

Jane Eyre is here from 17-22 July, and tickets are available now.