Observation Journal — Five Things to Steal from the National Theatre’s Jane Eyre

On this observation journal spread, I consider Five Things to Steal from the National Theatre’s online broadcast of Jane Eyre, and decide I dislike watercolour pencils for all-over coverage.

Double page spread fo hand-written observation journal. On the left, things seen/heard/done and a picture. On the right, a list of 5 (actually 6) things to "steal" from Jane Eyre, with very tiny notes and elaborations.
Also a gecko landed next to my wine glass and I was attacked by chili fumes.

This page is another in the 5 Things to Steal series. In April 2020 I watched (with friends, some online) the National Theatre At Home’s Jane Eyre. It was fascinating and impressive, with many resonances with things I was interested in at the time, and am currently revisiting.

Handwritten observation journal page with a list of 5 (actually 6) things to "steal" from Jane Eyre, with very tiny notes and elaborations.

One of the main things that strikes me now is:

  • For all that comics creators like to talk about being able to use bigger budget effects than cinema, theatre feels a lot closer to comics than either books or movies do. Some possible reasons it gives me this impression (particular to me and full of generalisations):
    • The very present and obvious framing of it (panels vs sets).
    • The obviously external, sequential nature (page-bound in a way novels don’t always seem to be vs stage-bound in a way movies rarely are — although I love both when they play with those possibilities).
    • A simplification and stylisation of iconography (for clarity/communication/style in comics; for the same reasons in theatre but also sty
    • The clear visual riffing on a written-down script.
    • A conscious, sometimes self-conscious, use of (and even weaponisation of) the apparent limitations of the medium.

Some other points (phrases in bold are mostly so I can find them again):

  • Externalisation of thoughts in a way that was sometimes literal.
    • This can be fascinating or charming or shift point of view in strange ways — I was thinking of Calvin & Hobbes and comedy videos and (although I read it after this, I think) Paul Cornell’s Chalk. I’m getting interested in different ways of depicting points of view (in prose and images), so I’ll revisit this.
    • But I also like what it can do to the reality of a story — in the play, Bertha was often on-stage as a sort of Greek chorus, and then you realise she is real. I don’t see enough theatre, but Bill Cain’s Equivocation rotated beautifully in and out of roles and reality/theatre.
    • I also have formless but strong feelings about point of view in several novels including Maria Dahvana Headley’s The Mere Wife, Kim Scott’s Taboo, and several Michael Innes mysteries.
  • The progression to adulthood by replacing parts of Jane’s costume on stage echoed recent thoughts on montages (Observation Journal — training/makeover montages).
  • The bare-bones/climbing-platform style of staging, with is so intriguingly both minimal/versatile and incredibly stagey (see Observation Journal — chasing patterns with digression on the appeal of staginess). I go back and forth on whether I can fully appreciate it in theatre, but I like its possibilities for illustration and also as a puzzle to play with in prose. And also just how it echoes play.
  • The casting of Laura Elphinstone as both Helen Burns and St John (among others), and how it echoed Amber McMahon’s Michael when I saw Tom Wright’s play of Picnic at Hanging Rock (Malthouse Theatre). This is either an amorphous thought about rhymes in visual character design, or it’s just that Twelfth Night casts long shadows.
  • The casting of a human (Craig Edwards) as Pilot (the dog), and how sometimes the easiest way to write animals is to write them as a particularly aggravating (or aggravated) person.

I’m trying to remember to include a brief plan of how to ‘steal’/repurpose elements. This page doesn’t go as far in that direction as I’d like. But it did tease out a few more topics I wanted to think on, and (as usual) at least meant I could hold a useful conversation about the play!

Sketching with words

The post on Illustrating Flyaway, over at Tor.com, has a few location sketches on it from when I went to Hanging Rock with Belinda Morris (yes, that Hanging Rock, and yes we had a picnic), trying to figure out how Joan Lindsay did it.

I also went out to the area around where I grew up, and which partially suggested the region of Inglewell in Flyway, and although I did get a few sketches on the way, it proved difficult for two reasons.

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(Thanks to the Cecilie Anne Sloane Postgraduate English Creative Writing Research Scholarship made both trips possible)

First, I was driving alone, and it turns out I find it easier to say “stop! pull over! back up!” if I am not in fact the person trying to get from A to B before nightfall. Second, I draw with line and shape more than light, and it was the light that twisted something in my heart and stomach.

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But I’d also deliberately abandoned any photography skills I had back when I first started seriously sketching, and there are qualities it requires real skill to catch in a photograph (looking back to Hanging Rock, it’s as intensely, dizzily beautiful in real life as in the book, but in photographs it is just as eerie as in the movie).

So I started dictating as I went. Not dictating paragraphs of prose — I haven’t got into the stride of writing that way. Just… sketching. Going over words, looking for phrases or descriptions or similes or ten ways of seeing a set of silos, in the same way I’d draw a Blue-faced Honeyeater again and again, trying to find the shape, the line, that means the light that I see.

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Not all of these show up in Flyaway. I went on this trip as part of the editing process, confirming my memories and tightening what I’d already written, checking the way the light shifted over a day, what it did on the road. What the road did. Recording bits of other places, for other stories. Memories. Small wonders.

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Beautiful horrors.

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Books read, things seen: March 2016

Books

March Books

  • How to Edit a Novel – Charlotte Nash: (full disclosure, I was given a review copy and am friends with Charlotte) A very plain, step-by-step, mechanical approach to editing which is VERY USEFUL as it is easy to get caught up in high-concept flights of editorial lyricism. I’ve been editing a manuscript and used a lot of her pointers, which successfully calmed me down and got the new draft quickly finished.
  • Hellboy: The Chained Coffin, and others – Mike Mignola: I loved this so much. How have I managed not to actually read Hellboy before? It is laconic and wry and yet with a kindness, for all the bloody myths and tales. And the art which is so simple and weighty and full-mouthed.
  • The Rabbits – John Marsden and Shaun Tan (illustrator): This book! The art is so rich. It glows, it looks flat as a mosaic and then the shapes resolve into sails and landscapes, the regimented patterns move with meaning, there are more stories in the tiny details. It has less than 250 words, and they are the high, clear bells chiming out a fine melody over Tan’s orchestral compositions.
  • Edward Grey, Witchfinder, Vol. 1: In the Service of Angels – Mike Mignola and Ben Stenbeck (illustrator): I enjoyed it, and would read more, but it suffered by following immediately on the heels of Hellboy and being so earnest.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay: This is such a good book, still, and I don’t know how? I thought it got away with not solving the mystery by not being about the mystery but about the people left behind, and yet on a reread she keeps pulling it back to the investigation as well? It’s a book about the ripples caused by an unsolved mystery, and about the little things that change lives as well as the big things, the weight of something vast and inexplicable on the world. It’s also a reimagining of The Little Princess and The Secret Garden, and beautiful and dreadful. It’s also made me think that the very end of The Lovely Bones weakened that book’s impact.

Picnic at Hanging Rock sketches

Picnic at Hanging Rock sketches

  • The Elusive Pimpernel – Baroness Orczy: C.S. Pacat and I stumbled upon a bookstore which was full of sequels we’d never heard of to very famous books. Now, the Pimpernel sequels are certainly generally known to exist, but this was the first I’ve read. It was a much smaller story than the first, really a battle between two wills, which is something I appreciate in sequels (instead of just making the antagonising forces bigger and badder). Also my personal theory is that Marguerite is the opposite of the cleverest woman in Europe, and in her Paris days people only called her that as a joke BUT Chauvelin, who was in love with her then, thought they were serious, and because he keeps so drastically overestimating her, the Blakeneys continue to triumph.

Seen

March Movies

  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (movie): Twice. We had so much fun. It was silly, but smartly so (new lines frequently taken from other Austen writing), and the production values were solid. I want to watch the outtakes just for more Bennett sisters as a team. I love Pride and Prejudice and many of its revisions, and a couple of these castings and scenes were extremely gratifying additions to the mythology.
  • From Dusk till Dawn (movie): Rooftop cinema. I still don’t know how this movie manages to form a coherent whole.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (play: Malthouse Theature): For such a visual book, it was fascinating to watch it staged with familiar descriptions but a minimalist, slate-grey set and almost none of the familiar imagery. The night-on-the-rock sequence was fabulously suspenseful, and Amber McMahon’s turn as Michael Fitzhubert was mesmerising.

Amber McMahon

My rough sketch from memory, and Amber McMahon (photo by Pia Johnson from ECU Daily).

  • The Rabbits (opera: QPAC): Affecting and gloriously textured interpretation of the book (see above).
  • London has Fallen (movie): Exactly what I expected, having seen Olympus has Fallen.
  • Zootopia (movie): Another fun movie, surprising, endearing, quotable and honestly the most convincing integration of mobile phones I’ve seen.
  • Hail Caesar (movie): Odd, though frequently gratifyingly so, and less a story than a ‘day in the life of’. I wanted more but also more of this. Peter M. Ball wrote up his thoughts: Would that it were so simple?