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!

Illustration Friday: Kiss

A tiny cut-paper Romeo and Juliet for Illustration Friday’s topic “kiss”, with some process shots below.

I’d quite like to illustrate some plays one day.

Books read, things seen: May – September 2016

A big, brief, catchup post, but here are some Cold Comfort Farm sketches to brighten it up. Also, I’m starting to keep track of books read on Goodreads as well.



  • Crusade – Peter M Ball (part 3 of the Flotsam Trilogy omnibus)
  • Bone Swans – C. S. E. Cooney: Such beautiful novellas. I wept. I drew fanart.
  • Tempting Mr Townsend – Anna Campbell
  • A Few Right Thinking Men – Sulari Gentill
  • Madensky Square – Eva Ibbotson: I had not read this Ibbotson and it is enchanting! A romance of pre WWI Vienna.
  • Winning Lord West – Anna Campbell
  • Pawn in Frankincense – Dorothy Dunnett
  • Q’s Legacy – Helene Hanff: So charming! So tiny! The follow-up to 84 Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. Has influenced my driving.
  • The Ringed Castle – Dorothy Dunnett. Suffocated sounds of distress.
  • The Foundling – Georgette Heyer: Perhaps a new favourite.
  • Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons: The first time I’ve read it, and I finally read it due to being presented with it at breakfast as a fait accompli by my landlady at a Devon B&B. I read it as a science fiction novel set in the world of The Fantastic Mr Fox, which was certainly memorable. I love her sheer disregard for agriscience.
  • The Tree – John Fowles
  • Stranded with the Scottish Earl – Anna Campbell
  • The Summer Bride – Anne Gracie
  • A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald – Natasha Lester
  • [Can’t tell you about it yet but very good]
  • Cotillion – Georgette Heyer
  • The Devil’s Delilah – Loretta Chase
  • Marked for Death: The First War in the Air – James Hamilton-Paterson: Fascinating WWI aviation history.

Movies & theatre

  • Captain America: Civil War
  • The Nice Guys
  • The Hunt for the WilderpeopleThis is really, really good, people, I highly recommend it.
  • Something Rotten (musical)
  • Shuffle Along (musical)
  • Fun Home (musical): Helpless crying.
  • Ghost Busters 
  • Love & Friendship: A remarkable study in telling only the connective tissue between big events, which works because it is all about the main character’s continuous, inventive self-justification and repositioning.
  • Sully
  • Star Trek: BeyondSuffered for being seen between Sully and Deepwater Horizon, in both of which people try to actually do a headcount of surviving passengers and crew.
  • Bridget Jones’ Baby

Cry murder! cover art

The first book cover I ever did was for Greer Gilman’s Tiptree Award-winning Cloud and Ashes (my mother had the dustjacket for that book framed). So when Small Beer Press asked me if I could do a cover for a new chapbook by Greer Gilman, I agreed at once.

The novella is Cry Murder! in a Small Voice, and I am very much looking forward to reading the whole thing (the timing of manuscripts and cover art did not permit). It features Ben Jonson, murders, Jacobean theatre, child-players and puppets cut from the woodcuts in old ballad sheets – the description of that last formed the basis of the illustration for the cover:

Cry Murder! - final cover

I enjoyed researching the woodcuts used to illustrate ballad sheets of the era (used and frequently re-used!), and contemporary depictions of, for example, witches and Proserpina (Persephone). I wound up basing Proserpina on the Vincenzo de Rossi sculpture (in which Pluto appears to be engaged in some Olympian goddess-tossing competition) – I imagined that when she was cut out to make a puppet, Pluto was omitted but his arm remains around her hips. The King is drawn from the nobility of playing cards and this cheerful fellow in the sunniest of Shakespeare’s plays. The lady with a fan is a nod to a lively lady appearing on many ballad sheets, the put-upon-sun is a staple of astrological pamphlets, and so on – trying to capture the styles of another medium and era while using my own style and medium. I like the boldness of the ink lines which I could use to echo rough woodcuts.

The strings were left out deliberately.

Below is the original ink work (with a glimpse of some sketches), a colour version and then below that the colour and texture layer of the final design.

Cry Murder! - art process

(You can see this larger on Flickr here)

In other news:

Illustration Friday: Theatre

Illustration Friday: Theatre

I sketched this straight onto the back of half a sheet of A4 drawing paper and cut it out with a craft knife, then photographed it mostly by staging it on a pile of books under my desk, turning off the ceiling light, lighting the theatre with a desk lamp under my chin and lying stretched out on the floor to take a photo without a flash. My housemates took this remarkably calmly.

Then I played around with Photoshop.

This is another version with part of the pile of books:

Illustration Friday: Theatre

And here is a less tampered-with photo of the theatre.

Illustration Friday: Theatre (original)

April Short Movie Reviews – this time with footnotes

Horton Hears a Who – Not good. It was full of pop-culture allusions and while I really, really like heavily allusive works (from Pratchett to T. S. Eliot to Brothers Grimm), these were so pointless it felt as if the movie existed to enhance the allusions and not the other way around (also, it didn’t enhance them and did more disservice to the things alluded to – alludees? – than it did to Horton). Except for the Emo-Who, which still cracks me up. It was ugly and ungainly (especially the kangaroo who freaked me out) and pretty much ignored anyone potentially interesting (the kids, Morton, the Mayor’s 99 daughters). Oh yes, and only boys can save the world. Things I liked: Morton, the character design of JoJo, the bits Shaun Tan did. Something I found written in my notebook later: Was Men In Black a reworking of Horton Hears a Who? Think it over.*

Supanova – First time. Had fun. Jewel Stait was interesting and amusing, Michael Winslow was very funny and had a polished performance with amazing vocal sound effects. Some great costumes (heavy on the anime repeats, but the less-replicated steampunk pieces were very cool, as was the individual in Star Wars camouflage hiding in the bushes). I might dress up next year but most fun was drawing the other attendees.

Page 21 Page 22 Page 23

Spiderwick (twice) – Not perfect, but not bad. I liked the flawed characters, the actors, and Mallory, the overbearing, strong-minded, sword-wielding older sister was pretty cool. Unfortunately it did get a little too sentimental at times (out of keeping with the rest of the film) and was another victim of the inexplicable genre of wanton destruction of beautiful houses.

One Man Star Wars – Fun for the nostalgia** and to watch anyone do this. It was a bit pricey for what it was, but too long to have been a comedy club act, so I won’t complain. It is certainly worth seeing and I hope he tours One Man Lord of the Rings here.

The Other Boleyn Girl – Pretty, pretty dresses. Pretty scenes. Pretty light. Pretty much a tudor-inspired soap opera. And very, very heavy on the foreshadowing (oh please – is this the third chicken we have seen having its head chopped off in preparation for dinner while the King arrives, in case we didn’t get it the first time?)***. Still, Deb and I had gone on purpose to mock and we didn’t much, so it was better than we expected. Highlight: In the first scene in the King’s chambers Deb started singing “Love shack” and at the end of the credits that was the song which came over the cinema radio!

Matchbox 20 (with Thirsty Merc supporting) – My sister lent me her Matchbox 20 CDs a while ago and to my surprise I knew every song on them. In order. Turns out they were big when I was at boarding school and, along with Sarah McLachlan were part of my first exposure to popular music****. And since they have some memorable, iconic, singable songs and I knew the words (which usually makes concerts better) I enjoyed it very much. My favourite part was when they covered ‘Under the Milky Way Tonight’. Thirsty Merc opened and they were… oh, I like their sound and their hair, both of which is a bit old-rock, but most of their songs are just too sentimental. Also, we were near the front and drinks and finger food at the bar were included in our tickets and we drew pictures of each other, so it was a pretty good night all up. Thanks for the tickets, M&J, sorry you had to go on a cruise:)

The TruthBrisbane Arts Theatre’s annual play based on a Pratchett Novel. This year it was The Truth^. Otto Chriek stole the scene hands-down. Although so did Sacharissa and Otto (“Please! Not to breath like that!”) and Gaspode and Foul Ole Ron… and I fell for William^^ just a little bit. The theatre is small and the sets are basic (well, they were. Now the one set is quite elaborate). Yes there is a person dressed as a dog with a cigarette in his mouth and, at one point, a tutu. Yes, the opening music was ‘Good News Week’. And it rocked and was hilarious and caught the book brilliantly. Moveable type is now my new hero^^^, maybe even up there with the Rule of Law. I did wonder if they would cut Otto Chriek’s periodic evaporations (he is a vampire photographer with an unfortunate reaction to bright lights) but they changed it for the stage and his histrionics were effective and regularly startling. And Pratchett Does Allusions Well.


*And while you do, check out these reviews for some interesting angles on the movie: Gender inequity in Whoville, and Horton hears a racist.

**Even if mine doesn’t go back that far. In year 11 I had a weekly “gifted and talented” class. The teacher asked me what I wanted to do and I said (1) use the internet and (2) “Watch Star Wars”, so she showed me how to use the computer in the library, and borrowed the original trilogy from the video store. I got to watch them back at the boarding house because it was, technically, homework :) Unfortunately, she borrowed the last two out of order.^^^^

***Confession: I had to ask Deb which number this queen was just to double-check her fate. I can’t remember the names, just the fates: “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived”. It’s a bit like Dubček. I could never remember his name, so I used to walk around in year 12 saying “How much dub could a dubček ček ček if a dubček could ček dub,” and now that’s all I remember about him.

****Also Pauline Pantsdown. Oh, and Alannis Morissette, but that was a really, really bad first experience and took me a long time to get over.

^… shall make you fret.

^^William: “Hold on, hold on, there must be a law against killing lawyers.”
Goodmountain: “Are you sure?”
William: “There’re still some around, aren’t there?”

^^^There was a BBC documentary on this with Stephen Fry, one hour, all on You-tube, but it’s gone now. If you get the chance, watch it, if only for seeing how a wooden counterthread for a screw is carved by hand and Stephen Fry behaving like a complete fanboy over the reconstructed press (“a most satisfactory object”).

^^^^Han shot first.

Five Performances I Saw In New York

 Mary Poppins – musical, Broadway

This was Genevieve’s idea and I did not desperately want to go. I love the songs from this musical, but not the movie itself so much: while the songs range from the irrepressibly, genuinely cheerful (Mrs Suffragette, Chim-Chiminee) to the manic (Supacallifragilistic) to the soporific (Go to Sleep) to the heart breaking (Feed the Birds), the movie manages to be pretty well candy-sweet and synthetic throughout, with none of the emotional range of its own music or the dark, daring nastiness of the books. I expected the musical to be pretty much a stage version of the movie. I was wrong.

I won’t say the musical was perfect. And it wasn’t a star vehicle – it showcased the songs and set (an Edwardian dolls house) rather than the individual actors (actually, I prefer this in a musical). But it wasn’t the Disney movie, either. The plot was changed (no more Mrs Suffragette, now Mrs Banks is herself from the stage and struggling with middle class society) and there are new situations with old songs in unfamiliar places (Spoonful of Sugar is now the aftermath to a kitchen disaster) and new words to old songs (Supacallifragilistic is no longer the story of Bert’s childhood), and new characters (the Statues!) and scenes (the conversation shop) and stunts (Bert tapdancing on the ceiling).

It also captured just a little more of the acerbic, uncomfortable genre from which it sprung. Not so much PL Travers as E Nesbit, but that’s halfway there. The living statuary in the park reminded me very much of The Enchanted Castle. Mary isn’t as alarming as she was in the books, but she is sharper and more obnoxiously self-satisfied (“practically perfect”).

And best of best of all, there were the gingerbread stars, which I had forgotten.

Perfect Crime – play, off-Broadway

Long-running, much lauded and I don’t see what all the fuss was about. Justly compared to Agatha Christie, just Agatha Christie tarted up and with the sense taken out of it. Confusing (as such mysteries should be) but untidy (which they should not be), with loose ends that appear to be disregarded rather than deliberately left open. Some great rants, though. I am a fan of witty, rapid-fire, top-of-the-lungs monologues (Vimes nearly got a standing ovation in Night Watch, last year, after delivering the Watchman’s Oath).

Hairspray – musical, Broadway

Full disclosure: I loved the new movie and haven’t seen the old one. I am not sure the new movie will wear well on me, but it was definitely the most fun I’ve had in a cinema this year, and might have spoiled the stage production for me. The set was stylised, which is fine, but the pastels made everything seem rather washed out and unexciting, and Tracy’s mother was uncertain of his lines (although “America, I made this myself!” was well-delivered), and Motormouth Mabel lacked the fire of Queen Latifah’s screen portrayal. Seaweed’s sister didn’t get the happy ending she did in the movie, but we saw more of her and she had spark as well, so that was good. But the whole thing was faded and cheapened for me by the over-the-top and unnecessary lewdness of the gestures and entendres, which took away the bittersweetness and fun and power of the musical.

Wicked – musical, Broadway

This manages to be both very and totally unlike the book (which I was a third of the way through), and to neaten and close the books storylines in a way the author didn’t (deliberately as opposed to inadvertently). So I enjoyed it in a different way. Interestingly, the Witch is actually more wicked at the end of the musical and gets a happier ending. The set and costumes were gorgeous. Elphaba and Galinda (“with a ‘ga’”) were both understudies that day and both fabulous. The flying monkeys were a highlight. I almost cried at Fiyero’s fate. It is also a more cerebral musical than the others. I’d like to see it again, some time, and work out if I like the music. I did come away humming, “They called me wonderful so I am wonderful”.

Pygmalion – play, Broadway

My mother and I arrived at this in style, windswept and rather shaken from our bicycle cab ride through the streets of New York. I loved it, simply and unashamedly. I’d been read (and read) the play, but never seen it performed. Especially with actual cockney accents, which my mother could never manage (she’d do deep southern US instead). It’s a brilliant play, with wonderful dialogue and monologues, humour, callousness, ideas. Also, it’s about linguistics, so all things for the good, hey?

My mother like Alfred Doolittle best. I thought the Higgins were divine – dignified Mrs Higgins and spoiled, arrogant, petulant, pig-headed Henry, sulking and scowling and being delightfully rude to everybody.

And Claire Danes played Eliza.

Claire was… like everything else in New York. Exactly as she looks in the movies and surprising for that. She made a wonderful Eliza, with an unrestrained passion that was much more endearing than Audrey Hepburn’s version. But as Miss Doolittle she was slightly wooden, or mannered. And I can’t quite say this is a criticism of Claire because when she was simply Eliza she was wonderful, and I know she can act. She’s one of my favourite actresses (the dormouse scenes in Stardust!), though that is based on personality as well as acting ability.

The difficulty with the role of Eliza Doolittle is that she does in fact become wooden and mannered and self-conscious, until the very end (and we saw this in her acting of the Ephiphany in Mrs Higgin’s house) and while in the musical she is the main character, in the play she is really rather secondary to Henry.

But, as I said, I loved the play, and because the cast of all Broadway productions were collecting for charity that month, she was at the stage door holding a bucket afterwards and I said, very quickly, that I had enjoyed the play and Stardust.