When we first started rehearsing After Mrs. Rochester, director Laura Roald strongly recommended that the actors read Jean Rhys‘ novel Wide Sargasso Sea, since the play is about the events that led to her writing it. Rhys suffered from what would probably be diagnosed these days as “borderline personality disorder”, and the article* concludes that “today, she would be stuffed with prozac and mood stabilisers and feel happy and ordinary in the way that she wanted. But then there would not have been the books.”
Some of us had read Wide Sargasso Sea before, and many of us also started to read everything we could about and by Jean Rhys. I’ve read a huge biography by Carole Angier, many of her short stories, and so far two of her early novels, Voyage in the Dark and Quartet. It’s fascinating to see how much of the dialogue from those early writings was used by playwright Polly Teale in After Mrs. Rochester!
* With the play opening tomorrow, actor Jessica Rose, who plays Ella (young Jean) just found a fascinating biographical article about Jean Rhys – online, in a 2004 issue of a magazine called Caribbean Beat. Check it out – photos included of Jean’s great love Lancelot, her husbands, daughter, and herself.