The Music of Jane Eyre

Its just over one week until the previews for Jane Eyre begin and the cast and creative team are moving from the rehearsal room to the theatre stage to apply the final touches to this epic two part tale. Benji Bower, long term collaborator with director Sally Cookson, founding member of Unforscene and Bower Brothers and genuine all-round musical powerhouse has created the sound world to this adaptation of Brontë’s classic story. We caught up with him to find out what musical delights are being conjured.

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What has it been like working on the music for Jane Eyre?
The process started about a year ago when Sally came to me with the idea of Jane Eyre and I began putting some musical ideas together. That’s kind of how Sally and I work; she feeds off a piece of music when she’s still putting together her ideas.

How did you get involved with the production?
I’ve worked with Sally before; it feels as though she’s the only person I work with! She’s pretty much my main employer, which is great. By now she knows where I’m coming from and how to understand what I’m talking about when I talk about music. So I write a lot of stuff and play ideas to her so I can try and create the world that I’m thinking of.

What can the audience expect from the music in the show? What will it be like?
Darkness, deep; emotional; beautiful singing…with lovely twinkles.

Unlike Peter Pan and Treasure Island this is the first piece of Sally’s that is dark almost throughout – there isn’t much space for the music to lift the deep emotion which is created.  That’s where the idea to use sourced tracks came from, to lift the mood.

How have you found the process of devising the music alongside the show?
This is normally how Sally works, by devising the show and the music at the same time. Sometimes I’m a bit more prepared and create things before and sometimes I’m left to devise things with the company. Often with theatre the music is composed after the company has devised the play – so I’m always catching up.

Ultimately when we get into the theatre that’s when it really comes alive. There are areas of the music that are left with an element of freedom that the musicians and the cast can feel in the moment. It’s difficult to feel and understand this completely in the rehearsal room but when you’re in performance mode and you’re on stage you can really make it work.

I really love this way of working, I love writing and I love it when it works.

What are you inspirations and influences for the music of the show?
I have loads! We’re taking influence from old English folk tunes and then mixing that with more classical influences from that time such as Edward Elgar. (But we’re careful not to use too much of that. It all gets a bit stuffy if you use it too much.)

Instead of using lots of classical music, like you might find in a TV period drama, we’re tried to create a set of music influenced by acoustic and folk music and we’ve managed to create something different. It’s been all about trying to finding the world of Jane Eyre.

So you’re also working with Phil King who is well known on the Bristol folk scene.
Yes and he’s a good friend and we’ve worked together before on the commercial stuff we’ve done. He’s got a great voice and he’s an excellent addition to the folky elements of the music.

Another way we’ve tried to take the music out of the ‘period drama’ style is by using a lot of sound design. I really love Brian Eno and ambient artists like Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Cinematic Orchestra so I’ve created music from these influences using drones and surround sound. A lot of Jane Eyre is quite dark and there’s a ghostly, eerie theme going throughout it I wanted to try and create this in sound design.

Is the music of Jane Eyre entirely original?
Well we’re throwing a few curve balls and using popular music in some scenes. We’ve created a version of Mad About the Boy by Noel Coward and a cut down version of Crazy by Gnarls Barkley which I created with the Jazz singer Alice Russell. As a tribute to Bernard Herman, who’s another great influence of mine and who composed the original score for the film Jane Eyre, we’re stealing a bit of his music! But where we are using popular music it’s in a way that is completely relevant to the characters or to the story.

What have you found the most challenging?
Doing a four-hour show! Doing two shows is such a huge task. Because we’ve been creating the script as we go that has taken the majority of the time so when we get to insert the music it’s going to be a really fantastic moment.

As a musician it’s all about marrying the music to the piece. It’s a great feeling when an idea I’ve written a year ago suddenly comes together and it all works.

What are you most excited about when the show opens?
The performance definitely and getting a hold on it. We’re going to be live, centre stage with a grand piano and all our instruments. We’ll be in amongst the acting. When everything starts coming together it gives you an excitement to get out there and perform it. You can see the story and see how the music fits into the show.

Jane Erye opens on 10 Feb 2014, information and tickets here.
Photography by Simon Annand – Jane Eyre rehearsals (2014) Mark Douet – Peter Pan rehearsals (2012) and The Boy Who Cried Wolf! (2013)



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