Step Inside the World of 'Jane Eyre' at This Medieval Manor House

Photo of Simon Leser
Uk Literary Editor27 October 2017

Haddon Hall, the spectacular ancient seat of the Duke of Rutland in England’s Peak District, is hosting its own theatre adaptation of the Charlotte Brontë classic—a unique and immersive experience inside one of the most celebrated Victorian novels.

Thornfield Hall, Mr Rochester’s fictional residence and the location of most of the action in Jane Eyre, is throughout the book made to appear a gothic, moody, imposing place. Or, in Charlotte Brontë’s own words:

“It was three storeys high, of proportions not vast, though considerable: a gentleman’s manor-house, not a nobleman’s seat: battlements round the top gave it a picturesque look. Its grey front stood out well from the background of a rookery, whose cawing tenants were now on the wing: they flew over the lawn and grounds to alight in a great meadow, from which these were separated by a sunk fence, and where an array of mighty old thorn trees, strong, knotty, and broad as oaks, at once explained the etymology of the mansion’s designation.”

One can see why Haddon Hall, a country house in the Peak District built between the 11th and 16th centuries, has so often been used to depict it: the manor is as gray-dark and formidable from the outside, and mysterious and rich on the inside, as the novel’s own Thornfield. No less than three productions of Jane Eyre—a 1996 film, a 2006 BBC mini series, and another film in 2011—were shot in Haddon for those very reasons. Readers may also remember the manor for its appearance in The Princess Bride (1987), or in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice.

It should therefore come as no surprise that the Hall is hosting a series of performances sure to delight any Jane Eyre fan—or fans of immersive theatre in general. The Lord and Lady Edward Manners commissioned local writer and former Haddon guide Gillian Shimwell to adapt the novel for the manor itself. The result is an experience quite unlike any other, a journey back in time and inside one of the most influential novels ever written in English.

Add to that the wider delights of the picturesque locale, whether of the Haddon Hall estate (which extends to The Peacock at Rowsley hotel) or the Peak District in general, and you also have an uncommon opportunity to revel in the charms of the English countryside. The next performances will take place on June 20—22, with each ticket including a post-show, three-course meal at the Haddon restaurant. More information here.

Staging Jane Eyre as a promenade play

The peculiarities of adapting and playing Jane Eyre at Haddon Hall—that is, roaming around an ancient house with the audience immediately around you—presented some novel challenges to the troupe of actors, as well as for writer/director Gillian Shimwell. We spoke with the professionals involved about how these conditions shaped their work, and to what extent the unusual proximity affects the audience.

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