EUTCo’s Facebook page presents the show as: ”After Mrs Rochester’ – a play of nostalgia, memory and love.’ And let me tell you, in those fast-paced 2 hours, it becomes much more than that:creativity, madness, growth, family and misery all brilliantly executed through the hypnotising art of physical theatre.
The play follows novelist Jean Rhys’s life, one that proves to be tainted with racism and self-oppression, as she’s a white Creole from the isle of Dominica, thus seeming to not quite belong anywhere, and a complicated relationship with an unwanted daughter she neglects as a result of the neglect of her own mother. The story follows her travels around Europe, her failed relationships with multiple men who fail to show her affection in any way other than sexual, and the terrifying pursuit of her dream of writing. Charlotte Brontë’s book Jane Eyre pounds like a beating heart in the background throughout the story, intertwined heavily with Rhy’s own story as she heavily identifies with the mad West Indian woman hidden from society in the attic. Rhys went on to be the author of Bertha Mason (also known as Mrs Rochester)’s prequel story with the book Wide Sargasso Sea. Bertha Mason, played by Angel Kotwall, is a ghost haunting the main character Ella (Abi Clarke) throughout the whole play, an unrelenting reminder of who Ella fears is her true self, or at least in the eyes of society. Kotwall acts this terrifyingly well, her body contorting in an almost animalistic manner the whole time she’s on stage and never breaking character, fascinating to watch. The idea of physicality in the play is a very interesting and original idea from the director, which was very effective for the audience’s connection to the story. You are unable to look away.
The group scenes were sometimes chaotic, with an excess of movement that made it jarring to the eye, but I’ll blame that on M&D’s small stage and not the precision of the actors’ moves, which was remarkable. The confusing group scenes can be easily forgiven and forgotten due to the one-on-one scenes with incredibly talented individuals. The love scenes between Ella and her string of men were beautiful harmonious dances, brilliantly mesmerising by both partners each time as their bodies moved together. It is enchanting to watch Abi Clarke move, with her constant grace and precision. Amy Lotherington, who plays Ella’s daughter, steals the spotlight and makes you ache as she fights tears (and let’s face it, we do as well) with the heart wrenching scenes between her and Esme Lonsdale, who plays Ella in later life and the narrator of the story. The emotion Esme manages to carry with solely her voice makes it impossible to look away from her, or not listen.
“creativity, madness, growth, family and misery all brilliantly executed through the hypnotising art of physical theatre.”
Altogether, the play is at times confusing but altogether very moving, with brilliant actors and an original idea of exploring this show with physical theatre, making it a beautifully interesting experience with amazing characters and performances that are hard to forget.