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Andrea Corr & Stephen Brennan as Jane and Rochester

I have to admit I was sceptical when I heard singer Andrea Corr was to play Jane in The Gate’s dramatisation of Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre, adapted by Alan Stanford. Jane is the original Plain Jane and Andrea, as we know, is far from plain. However, I’m glad to say that she does a good job of the role in a very enjoyable production of the play. Corr’s superstar looks can’t be completely played down, obviously, but her petite frame, austere hairstyle and simple, grey dress make her physically credible as the orphan governess Jane. Corr has a slightly heightened style of acting – giddy almost – whereas Jane was a more self-contained, serious character. Having said that, Corr excels when raw emotion is called for in the role – she is genuinely moving in the scene, for example, where she and Rochester are forced to part.

Stephen Brennan is a solid and convincing Rochester, if a tad too old to pass as merely ‘over forty’. His skill as an actor though soon lures you in and you forget that he is meant to be younger. He’s a big man (as Rochester was) and together with Corr’s slightness they certainly look the part together. Brennan delivers all aspects of his role well: Rochester can be gruff but he is also warm and funny.

Deirdre Donnelly is excellent as the older Jane, she narrates the story onstage and she is a deep and emotional actress who brings gravitas to the whole production. Other stand-out cast members include Donna Anita Nikolaisen as Bertha Mason, Rochester’s secret, disturbed wife who is locked in the attic and escapes to do mischief. We are introduced first to Bertha’s eerie laugh and elegant, dance-like movements and, later, to her rage, which Nikolaisen manages to make very frightening. My one quibble would be that the lighting is always dim when Bertha is onstage making it a little difficult to make out exactly what she is up to.

Bruno Schengl’s bare set – with everything painted silver – leaves the actors free to be the main event, and Léonore McDonagh’s costumes are of the period and often beautiful – particularly Jane’s white chemise and lace veil, which point to her innocence and purity. Thankfully some of the book’s sub-plots were left out – Jane’s is a long story – as they play lasts a hefty two and a half hours (with a short interval).

The Gate is an intimate theatre – it has a cosiness that our other Dublin theatres lack and there is always a great atmosphere and buzz there. The audience the night I was at Jane Eyre was very responsive, laughing at all the humorous bits and staying attentive when that was needed. The anticipation for the famous line – ‘Reader, I married him!’ – was like a breath being held and huge applause broke out when Deirdre Donnelly delivered it, with an enigmatic smile.

The play runs until the 15th of January, though the run may be extended, and it makes a lovely seasonal night out when you’re finally sick of all the alcohol and pudding. Tickets can be bought here: The Gate

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The author Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue is the author of 10 novels, including the bestselling Slammerkin (2000). Her latest novel, Room, has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. She was born in Dublin in 1969, and has been writing books since the age of 23. She lives in Canada with her partner and their two children.

Room was inspired by the Fritzl story and tells the story of Jack and Ma, who are trapped in the room of the title. You can read Emma’s Anti-Room questionnaire here.


Rosita Boland

I did not want to read Room. The subject matter is so disturbing. Even as I write now, I’m utterly certain there are as-yet-undiscovered children and women locked up in the way Ma is in Room. Knowing that makes me feel helpless, despairing and ferocious. It did not make me want to read about that world, especially a fictionalised one.

Yet, there it was on my desk, sent in the post. A fortnight later, I eventually opened it. Read a few pages. Gripped. Took it home and read the rest of the book that night.

For me, Room works because it draws you so fluently and convincingly into Jack’s world-within-a-world. It’s his perspective that makes telling this story possible. Lots of showing, not telling. What should be ghastly is funny. The focus of the novel lets in the air that Ma and Jack could never get: the reader can breathe. It’s as much about a beautiful portrait of the relationship of a child with its mother as it is about the circumstances of them being there.

****SPOILER ALERT****

The one part that did not convince me was the ease of Jack’s escape. I don’t believe it. How bizarre – that it’s easier for me as a reader to believe completely in their dreadful hermetic world than the fact that they escape from it in the way they do.

****SPOILER ENDS****

Catherine Brodigan

Jack, the five-year-old narrator of Room, is, like most five-year-olds, bright, chatty, imaginative and eagle-eyed. It’s this innocent and unflinching eye for detail that makes his account of life within the eleven-foot by eleven-foot room in which he and his Ma are held captive all the more gut-wrenching. For Jack, sleeping in Wardrobe is nothing out of the ordinary, and playing Scream under Room’s skylight is simply part of the weekday rota of games Ma tirelessly invents to keep him occupied. So when Ma reveals that the world outside is not just “in TV”, and asks for Jack’s help in plotting their escape from Room, Jack’s life is changed utterly, and yet he will do whatever she asks of him.

Emma Donoghue has written a brave book full of fierce and unwavering love, a book which manages to both unsettle and inspire, even weeks after reading. It’s thoroughly deserving of a place on the Booker shortlist.

Anna Carey

There was a point, half way through Room, when I would have actually fought anyone who tried to take the book out of my grip. I was walking around with the hardback in my hand, and didn’t stop reading while I made my dinner. Emma Donoghue has already proven herself to be a skilled storyteller, but Room is her boldest book yet. Telling the story in the voice of a child, especially one who has spent his entire life captive in a tiny shed (even if he doesn’t realise he’s a captive) is a huge risk, and against all the odds, Donoghue pulls it off. Jack is that rare thing, a convincing young child narrator, and the gulf between his general happiness and the reader’s awareness of his and his Ma’s horrific situation adds to the novel’s power. I was slightly surprised by the incredibly gushing blurb quotations from writers such as John Boyne and Michael Cunningham  – Room is a gripping, powerful novel, but I didn’t think it was a life changer. Maybe they live in a sole diet of very serious literary fiction and don’t realise that compulsive readability is quite common in other genres.  But it’s an unputdownable thriller and a deeply moving story of family love told in a unique and convincing voice, and that’s more than enough.

Megan McGurk

After I saw the bulletin announcing Emma Donoghue’s  plan to write Room last autumn, it was clear that I’d read the novel, which would not have been the case if it had been  authored by almost anyone else.  Donoghue’s gift for weaving stories from news snippets was established with The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits.  There was no concern over encounters of ghastly descriptions about sexual assault as with the Stieg Larsson trilogy, or other popular books that deal with victimised women and children.  Room bypasses the horror for an emphasis on the love Ma has for her son Jack and their heroic efforts to cope and survive Old Nick’s brutality.  Some days, Ma keeps to the bed in a crippling fit of despair and depression.  Jack refers to those days as ‘one of the days when Ma is Gone.’  The five year-old takes the opportunity to watch an unlimited amount of television while his mother remains overwhelmed.  This is one of many examples Donoghue crafts in order to underscore the difference in perspective between mother and son.  The real wonder is how Ma finds the courage to rise from the bed and keep them both alive.

Donoghue’s novel is a flawless achievement.  Readers can only pause over how many more women and children are being held in captivity.

Room is out now, published by Picador

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