It has been a fine year for musical theatre, so far, and St. Mary’s Musical Society Navan added to the amazing work AIMS groups do in this genre. This Navan company took on the difficult task of the Irish Premiere of Jane Eyre, A Musical Drama, at the beautiful Solstice Arts Centre and with the expert direction of Tony Flanagan and the expressive technical lighting skills of Gerry Taylor, made a dark dense drama a night to remember.
This was a big-ask task and this society had to have a huge cast of children and adults, excellent stage management, detailed costume and hair design, and a dedicated stage crew who could cope with inserts, a model house, with impressive fire and pyro effects.
Based on the Charlotte Bronte novel, it is a dark brooding piece of bonnets and bustles, riding britches and boots,, with lots of dramatic tragedy, retribution, forgiveness and painful reconciliation on an epic scale.
The work has fine music, an over detailed book and libretto and an almost all sung story, that sticks too faithfully to the book. All of this makes for too many technical and staging problems to overcome and in just under three hours, is a powerful experience due to direction and some wonderful principals and character performers. Finnegan gave the work a modern operatic shape set in a dark panelled set, a complicated back video style panel using real actors in some amazing tableaux work, lit like portraits in a gallery. A bed has to be set on fire (which it was), a house has to burn down and this was achieved cleverly and effectively.
Ivan McKenna worked wonders with the music and the two principals were amazing in big dramatic and emotional solos and duets. Sharon Sexton was stunning as Jane Eyre and Ray O’Hare was masterful as Rochester. They held the audience in thrall and led them on a powerful journey.
Waterford’s Katie Honan was excellent as the dying orphan Helen Burns and her big solo Forgiveness was impressive as her death scene in Willing To Be Brave.
Stephanie Finney was impressive as the posh-notioned Blance Ingram and, The Finer Things, was a highlight of the show.
Mairead Murray brought much needed humour to her Mrs. Fairfax and I loved the contrast in Society’s Best. Sean Flanagan was a spot-on, Robert, the Butler.
It was easy to see why this show has had a difficult time since its first outing in 1995 in Wichita Kansas but the work and dedication Navan put into staging it was well rewarded in standing ovations. I could see Carrick taking this on and winning individual awards.