Category Archives: After Mrs. Rochester

Jessica Rose of “After Mrs. Rochester” nominated for award!

THIS JUST IN!!   Jessica Rose, who played Ella (young Jean Rhys) in Alumnae Theatre’s September production of After Mrs. Rochester, is nominated for a Best Actress award by BroadwayWorld Toronto.   

Ella (Jessica Rose – seated front) is reassured by her husband Leslie (Laine Newman) after he sends her manuscript to the publisher without her approval. Photo: Dahlia Katz.

Winners are decided by number of votes, so if you saw the show and were blown away by Jessica’s heartfelt performance, vote for her!  She is nominated in TWO categories:  # 9 – Best Leading Actress (Play) and category # 19 – Best Performance by a Female in a Feature Role/Ensemble (Play).  Please vote for her in both categories.

Cast your vote at:

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“After Mrs. Rochester” – the end

After Mrs. Rochester closed on Friday, October 7.  It was a fantastic experience and a wonderful show.  All who were involved are so proud of it, and amazed and delighted by the unprecedented amount of feedback it generated.

The last thing I read about Jean Rhys was a book of her letters 1931 – 1966, compiled by her editor Diana Athill and author/journalist Francis Wyndham.  In one of the last, a letter to Athill dated February 15, 1966, Jean explained her motivation for writing her long-in-the-works masterpiece Wide Sargasso Sea, now regarded as a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre:  “I’ve never believed in Charlotte’s lunatic [Bertha, the first Mrs. Rochester], that’s why I wrote this book…”   Wide Sargasso Sea was finally published in October 1966, and remains a beautiful legacy to Rhys’ unhappy life.


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“After Mrs. Rochester” – Oct 2 Talkback

There was an encouragingly big house for yesterday’s Sunday matinee, and a large portion of them stayed for the post-performance Talkback.  Onstage with the cast were director Laura Roald, sound designer Megan Benjafield, and a woman of many hats:  co-producer/costume designer/sound operator PJ Hammond, who fielded the audience questions.

But first she asked a two-part question of her own:  how many audience members were familiar with, or had read any of Jean Rhys’ work?  As  Jean says in the play, “a few brave souls” raised their hands.  Then PJ asked how many had read Jane Eyre.  I didn’t have a chance to count hands, but it seemed like close to half of the audience said they had.

PJ also anticipated a question that’s likely been on the mind of many audience members:  why an all-female cast?  Well, as she and director Laura Roald explained, not many men auditioned for the play in the first place.  Of those that did, most were unsuitable because of age ranges, matching with rest of cast, or just not available for the required time period.  Laura explained that she was then forced to re-think her original concept, and wonder, “What happens if we take the boys out?”

Since almost everything in this play – except the modern-day daughter scenes – happens in Jean’s head, it made sense that all the characters, including the men, have a female essence.   Ford Madox Ford, who first encouraged Jean to write, back in 1920’s Paris, critiqued an early work by noting that “The other characters…are seen entirely through [the heroine’s] eyes”.  Plus, with so many scenes of rough sex in the play, having women playing the men made the scenes less shocking and disturbing than they would have been if , for example, Ella (played by Jessica Rose) was being ‘deflowered’ by a male actor.

Actor Susan Q Wilson, who played Jean, had researched the author’s life and works.  She told the audience that at the time the play is set (1957), Jean Rhys was an alcoholic, and the process of writing what became her masterpiece novel Wide Sargasso Sea was long, brutal and tortured.  In fact, Jean wrote an early version and destroyed it during an argument with her husband Leslie (played by Laine Newman) in the late 1930’s.  She began again in the 1950’s, but did not have a breakthrough until she wrote a series of poems in the early 1960’s, and then she attacked the book again with renewed vigour.  It was finally published in October 1966, and Polly Teale’s play documents the long, winding road (filled with memories and demons) to get there.

Sound designer Megan Benjafield mentioned the sound effect at the very end of the play (SPOILER AHEAD – BEWARE!) during the otherwise silent reconciliation of Jean and her adult daughter Maryvonne (played by Laura Jabalee).  It incorporates snippets of all the sounds used previously – the Caribbean river and birds, London music hall, clocks chiming, a baby crying, pen scratching across paper, etc.) and sends the audience out on a hopeful note.

And here’s an editorial comment from me:  the title After Mrs. Rochester incorporates art terminology,  in which “after” means “in the style of”.  So Tom Stoppard’s play After Magritte – well, you get the picture.  Ha!  I said picture.  🙂

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“After Mrs. Rochester” audiences are the best!

They may be small in number, but wow:  are they ever responsive!  So  many audience members have e-mailed the producers or cast members after seeing the show – it’s definitely a play that provokes comment and deep thoughts.  One of my co-workers, who saw the show yesterday, told me that he went home afterwards, did some research on Jean Rhys, and ordered her novel Wide Sargasso Sea!

And here are a couple more comments:

 …congratulations on a great show. It sat with me for many hours after and still resonates now. The story is beautifully layered and interwoven and the complex narrative was executed very well by the cast.

 … really truly impressed with the whole production, from a complex production standpoint to the outstanding acting from everyone.  Not one weak link.


Alumnae Theatre’s former bloggergal, Cathy McKim, posted a review on her own blog at, plus a follow-up when she attended the Talkback yesterday:


Thanks to all who’ve seen the show and taken the time to let us know how much you enjoyed it and/or were intrigued by it.  Tell your friends – only 3 performances left!  Closing Friday October 7.  Reserve tickets at


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Audiences have spoken…

After Mrs. Rochester:  four performances in, and looking forward to the next seven! Here are a few quotes from audience members:

  • Really enjoyed the play (I love when you have to pay attention to where in time you are!) and thought all the performances were terrific – really well cast and enjoyed the all-girl approach as well – it was very interesting.  [This] show should be seen!

  • I thought it was an exceptional production. The play is fascinating with all its layers and time shifts. The director handled it seamlessly. I loved the women playing the men’s roles; all were excellent. Very intriguing. This is a play that demands something from its audience, but the audience is justly rewarded. Go see it!

    • It is one of the best plays I’ve ever seen. The entire cast is brilliant and the play itself is beyond captivating and intense.
    • I have read both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea.  This play was captivating!  Highly impressed – will be back!

And if you haven’t yet clicked on the link in a previous post to Mooney On Theatre’s review (, here are some excerpts from reviewer Crystal Wood:

 After Mrs. Rochester, written by playwright Polly Teale, looks at the life of Jean Rhys, the author of Wide Sargasso Sea – a sort-of prequel to Jane Eyre. Rhys’s life connects in many ways to Brontë’s book, starting from her childhood growing up in the West Indies where Rochester’s character meets his mad wife. Teale’s play follows Rhys from her strict childhood to her time spent as a young showgirl in London through to the publication of her most famous book.

This is a play with many layers, both emotionally and literally. It’s about a writer who wrote a book because of an obsession with another book… It really feels like you’re watching three stories unfold at once, but because of Teale’s script and some very efficient direction from Laura Roald, it never feels confusing….

I enjoyed this production very much … I encourage theatre fans to go see it.

So what are you waiting for?   The show only runs to Friday October 7 (that’s a week from tomorrow) at Alumnae Theatre.  See for details, and e-mail to reserve tickets. $20 regular price, and there are deals on Wednesdays, Sundays and at T.O. Tix (

  1. ELLA (Jessica Rose – seated, right) has a visitor at the convent.
  2. MOTHER (Julie Burris, standing, left):  “Your uncle is extremely kind to make the effort to come to see you.”   Tabitha Keast (seated, left) as the ‘UNCLE’.  (and you know he’s not really her uncle)                   Photo:  Dahlia Katz,

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Win FREE tickets to “After Mrs. Rochester” on Sept 29!

MooneyOnTheatre (who reviewed the September 24 show- see is offering FREE tickets to the performance on Thursday September 29. 

Enter contest at – entry deadline is NOON on Wednesday Sept 28.

Photo (by Dahlia Katz, shows  (L to R): Susan Q Wilson (as Jean Rhys), Jessica Rose (as Ella – young Jean), Kanika Ambrose (as Tite – Ella’s childhood friend).

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The long, colourful life of Jean Rhys

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.

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“After Mrs. Rochester” production photos up! Opening Sept 23!

Check out the production photos (shot by Dahlia Katz, on September 15): – scroll down, and click on a thumbnail at right.

Opening night is this Friday, September 23.  Have you booked a ticket yet? The show plays until Friday, October 7 (remember: closing one day earlier than shown on poster).  Performances are Wed – Sat at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm.  After the matinée on Sunday October 2, there will be a Talkback with director Laura Roald, the cast, and designers.  Stick around!

Tickets are 2-for-1 on Wednesdays; $20 Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; PWYC on Sundays.  Book in advance and pay cash at the theatre when you arrive, or purchase online (with service charge) at

Box Office:  416-364-4170 box 1 or  Reservations not required on Sundays.

Alumnae Theatre is at 70 Berkeley Street (east of Sherbourne; SW corner of Berkeley & Adelaide) in Toronto.  See Tickets page of our website for map.

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Song & dance in “After Mrs. Rochester”

Last night’s rehearsal was mostly devoted to the chorus girls (which is everyone in the cast except Bertha and Jean) learning the song “All Down Piccadilly” and its associated choreography, devised by director Laura Roald.  If you want to read the sheet music & lyrics, check out

The song comes from a 1909 musical comedy called “The Arcadians” which was a huge hit in its time.

A [modern] performance of it by a solo male singer can be seen on Laura’s blog at – the chorus girls in After Mrs. Rochester will perform a much perkier version of the song’s chorus, which is at 1:37 – 2:07 on the video.  Top hats for the guys, fancy feathered chapeaux and ruffled skirts for the gals, flirting with the audience (pre-jazz hands, when the sight of an ankle was an erotic experience) – it’s gonna be a blast!

One note Laura gave the girls about a section of choreography was:  “It’s a bounce down, chest up and boobs out.”

And actually, Jean (played by Susan Q Wilson) does sing in the scene, which takes place in her memory.  Her time with the chorus was a happy one, so in the ‘present’ (1957) she sings along lustily, bottle of vino in hand.

But before the song & dance started, we had notes from our run the night before.  Must share one with you.

DIRECTOR to actor:  “Laine, that was good sex.  The right combination of technicality and tenderness.”

New actor Kanika Ambrose, who will play the roles of Tite, Meta, and one of the chorus girls, had quite a workout!  Keriece Harris has had to leave the cast, so last night we rehearsed most of the scenes in which Kanika will appear.  It’s looking very good!

Please note, the show will now close a day early: on FRIDAY, October 7 instead of Saturday 8th.

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“After Mrs. Rochester” in fightin’ form

So Monday night’s rehearsal (yes, folks – not only did we rehearse all day Saturday of a holiday weekend, we also had 3 hrs of fights and falls on Labour Day.  Not that I’m complaining – loving every minute of it!) was devoted to fight choreography with Fight Director Christopher Mott.  The last time he came (August 17), it was only a week and a half after the official first read-through.

He led us through the warm-up exercises he taught us last time: synergy (two people place the backs of their hands together and move around, always keeping the hands in contact), hard synergy (same as synergy, but tighten the muscles so it looks like you’re pressing/pushing the other actor), assisted sit (basically how to fall without hurting yourself – another actor helps), assisted lift (hoisting another actor on your back – fun!), and finger fencing (think thumb wrestling – the goal is to poke the other actor’s arm, leg or body).  Surprisingly strenuous – the finger fencing especially brought out the competitive streak in many of us!

Then Chris had us run the fights he’d developed last time, tweaking or revising if necessary.  Actor Laura Jabalee (who plays several characters including Jane Eyre, Jean’s daughter Maryvonne, and a chorus girl named Maudie) is not in any fights, but trained with the same teacher as Chris Mott, so she’s going to be our Fight Captain once the show is running.  She took notes and pointed out that Ella (Jessica Rose) is quite a little scrapper – she’s in seven fights!

One of Chris’ funny notes was to actor Julie Burris, playing Ella’s mother.  The mother is whacking her daughter with a cane, and Chris wanted to adjust Julie’s starting pose, with cane upraised.  The note was:  “Think less Staying Alive, more Star Wars.”  🙂  

But my favourite bit from Fight Night has to be when Rochester is protecting Jane Eyre from Bertha’s mad onslaught.  After pushing Bertha to the floor, he puts up his hand to hold Jane back, and the angle and positioning made it look like he was telling Bertha, “Hands off – this rack is mine!”  I think I blurted, “He’s protecting Jane’s boobs!”  Much mirth and hilarity ensued.  Fight was delayed until the actors regained composure.

Lighting Designer Paul Hardy was in the house last night for the first time, and after a quick fight rehearsal, watched us run the show (with occasional calls to Stage Manager Karen McMichael for “line” – especially in Act II.  It may be only half as long as Act I, but by golly a lot happens!).  He is dreaming up something “rich and sensual, but humid and shadowy”.  Sounds delicious.

Costume bits (sourced by multi-tasking co-producer PJ Hammond) are appearing.  I am encouraged to wear Bertha’s white nightgown and bloomers at every rehearsal from now on, so that they get ‘distressed’ – aka good & dirty.  Well, Bertha has been shut up in an attic for 10 years, and I guess laundry for lunatics wasn’t a priority back in the 1850’s.  Other characters get jackets, boots (Tabitha Keast’s big ‘Rochester’ riding boots cracked me up when she first put them on to rehearse our fight scene), glasses, and many of us coveted Jessica’s beautiful 1920’s-style cream coloured dress that she’ll wear in Act II.

Next:  music and choreography for the chorus girl scene and the carnival scene.

Oh, yes – there’s a snippet from an Edwardian music hall number (Ella joins a touring show in London as a chorus girl in 1909) as well as an earlier bit of a Caribbean carnival song and dance.  Luckily, I just get to watch those parts and don’t have to learn the songs!

Two and a half weeks to opening…

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