Time, space warped on stage
"The colliding black holes that produced these gravitational waves created a violent storm in the fabric of space and time, a storm in which time speeded up, and slowed down, and speeded up again, a storm in which the shape of space was bent in this way and that way."
California Institute of Technology physicist Kip Thorne said this last week as the recent discovery gravitational waves (which 100 years ago Albert Einstein postulated existed) was announced.
The waves actually did to time and space what the directors successfully did metaphorically to the plays Jane Eyre and Pan, which I saw on Sunday. The former, a recorded National Theatre Live production, was on screen at Palace Cineplex, Sovereign Centre. The latter, a Jamaica Junior Theatre (JJT) production, was onstage at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts (PSCCA), UWI, Mona.
Pan's printed programme states it is "a musical adaptation of J.M. Barrie's 1904 play Peter Pan [with] stage adaptation by Samantha Chin Yee and Jodi Ho Lung." The latter also co-directed, together with Danielle Stiebel. The three-hour Jane Eyre was "devised by the Company", including director Sally Cookson.
Professional theatre directors have only been around since about the mid-19th Century. According to The Penguin Dictionary of the Theatre, by the end of that century, some theorists "were elevating the director's role to that of prime creator in the theatre".
Now directors seem to be as important as the playwrights, as advertisements and theatre programmes usually list them together in the same size font. At the Oscar Academy Awards, directors are bigger stars than writers.
The directors of Jane Eyre and Pan have grabbed even more of the creative ground. They threw away the perfectly good scripts they inherited - the Barrie stage play ran from 1904 to 1913 in London and fundamentally reworked the original stories.
Cookson, who found the task of adapting Jane Eyre "challenging", said in her introduction to the production, "Our job has been to turn the book into a piece of theatre. Essentially, that means creating something new - the experience of reading a book is very different to watching a play."
"Rather than approach the novel as a piece of costume drama, I was keen to explore the themes and get to the heart of the story and characters in a theatrical way ... On that first day of rehearsal, there was no script, no read-through, just us as a company taking a deep breath together, making a leap into the unknown."
The leap paid off. The reviews have been generally positive, the Jamaican audience loved it, and the production certainly is theatrical. The set consists of a platform about 10 feet high, with a ramp, ladders and steps leading to the top. The action takes place on, under and around these. Furnishing is minimal; chairs and stools are brought on and off in plain sight.
We have to imagine a man as a dog, a ladder as a horse and trotting actors as passengers on a train. Many actors play multiple roles. While the production is not a musical, there is a lot of music from the on-stage band and a couple of female soloists.
Despite the theatrical treatment and the gravitational wave-like twisting and warping of the story, its torment, tragedy and eventual triumph are never lost. They are saved by its realism. Incidentally, the novel's author, Charlotte BrontÎ, sent Mr Rochester, whom Jane marries in the end, to Jamaica for a few weeks. He first got married in Spanish Town.
Pan, a fantasy, is treated less theatrically. The costumes tell you who the characters are. The Darling family looks like regular folk, the pirates are dressed like pirates, the Indians (as in Native Americans) like Indians. Actors do play animals, but they are dressed like those animals; a spear-like prop represents a spears and Captain Hook's sword looks like a sword. (In Jane Eyre, a trap door on the stage represents the grave, and when characters die, they go through it.)
The acting is naturalistic and very energetic. Some characters are played by two performers and the main characters were played by Zoe-Daniele Chin Sang (Pan), Courtni Spencer (Tink), Philip Wheatle (Hook), Madeline Sharpe (Smee), Kiandra Edwards (Wendy), Matthew Yee Grant (Michael) and Zane Maher (Simon).
Peter Pan is a flying boy who lives in Never Neverland, where people don't age. We now have people floating happily about in space vehicles. Because of the speed at which they are moving and the absence of gravity, they are ageing at a different rate from people on Earth.
In our world, scientists will soon send up three spacecraft to detect more gravitational waves. They will form a triangle a million kilometres apart in an area some 50 million kilometres from Earth. There, the gravitation of the Earth and sun cancel out Each other.
Time moves differently there. They should call that place Never Neverland.