Twenty students from various educational institutions made their theatrical debut at the Universiti Teknologi Brunei (UTB) Multipurpose Hall last week, with a stage performance of the Victorian era drama, Jane Eyre. 

The 90-min theatrical presentation is based on the classical novel by Charlotte Bronte, which follows the journey of the titular character, from childhood to adulthood, as she moves through life from one tragic obstacle to another. 

The classic gothic tale is filled with captivating characters, complicated family history, dark secrets, romance, mysteries and is an exercise in exploring the pitfalls of Victorian-era classism, sexism and xenophobia. 

The Jane Eyre theatrical drama performance held at Universiti Teknologi Brunei. Image: Fazizul Haqimie

The main protagonist Jane Eyre was played by A’isyatul Alyaa, portraying a strong-willed woman who is outwardly quiet. 

For Alyaa, understanding the background of the character is a must to mold the basics before being on stage.

The Jane Eyre theatrical drama performance held at Universiti Teknologi Brunei. Image: Fazizul Haqimie

“I personally love her character, she portrays a strong-minded, independent and ethical character. she values the truth, honour and dignity which I deeply admire,” she shared, adding that she had created a strong bond with her character by channeling her mannerisms.

Alyaa also talked about how being a part of the production has helped her with her confidence, to step out of her comfort zone and be more open-minded as well as explore different roles of acting.

On his part, Ak Muhd Khairin Pg Hj Zainurin, the production’s composer believed that music plays an important part of the stage performance, highlighting how vital it is composing from sight to sound to complement the performance.

“It is all about timing. On stage, there is no room for mistake, everything is done in real-time,” said Khairin, who was influenced by the novel ideas of Hans Zimmer and Ludvig Forssell. 

UTB Faculty Advisor of the Drama, Reading & Musical (DReaM) Club and President of the Brunei Reading and Literacy Association (RELA) Dr. Malai Zeiti Sheikh Abdul Hamid delivers her welcoming remarks during the Jane Eyre theatrical drama performance held at Universiti Teknologi Brunei. Image: Fazizul Haqimie

This inspired Khairin to introduce different elements of heavy synth and bass to add what he described as ‘creepy’ texture into the production.

The 17-year-old, who would usually produce electronic music, shared that it was his first time composing for a stage production. 

“My initial idea for the stage production was just normal orchestration (like movie scores), however, that approach did not properly translate well with the theme of theatre. That’s when I decided to research more on the symphonies in the Victorian era and apply it,” he said.

The Jane Eyre theatrical drama performance held at Universiti Teknologi Brunei. Image: Fazizul Haqimie

The stage production of Jane Eyre captured the themes of its source text; exploring childhood trauma, self-reliance, morality and ethics that are still relevant to the community today, said screenplay writer and director, Witsy Mathew.

She noted how the theatre performance departed from the philosophical narrative of the novel, with key scenes needing to be condensed down for the stage adaptation. 

The Jane Eyre theatrical drama performance held at Universiti Teknologi Brunei. Image: Fazizul Haqimie

It took Witsy three weeks to finish the script.

“Jane Eyre is a complex and long novel. It was quite challenging to condense it into a 90-minute stage adaptation for a Bruneian audience. I had to heavily delete the philosophical conversations of the main protagonists,” she shared,

“I wanted to provide the audiences, especially young readers with a theatrical experience and also get them interested in reading the novel,” she said.

Witsy has been teaching English literature for two decades and has taught at Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan Science College for 13 years.

Her favourite part of the stage production was watching her students get into character and how they magically transformed on stage.

Image: Fazizul Haqimie

The stage production aims to promote the world of literature and also to improve the stage presence and public speaking skills among the local youth.

Assistant Professor at Universiti Teknologi Brunei Dr Malai Zeiti Sheikh Abdul Hamid shared that the stage performance of Jane Eyre, was aimed to develop the talents of local Bruneian youths and to promote confidence-building, to be creative and preparedness in using language in acting or role play in front of an audience.

“If you give a child a fish, the child eats for a day, but if you teach the child to fish, the child will be able to fish for a lifetime,” she said in her speech acknowledging the difficulty to present ourselves in public. 

Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Yang Berhormat Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Haji Aminuddin Ihsan Pehin Orang Kaya Saiful Mulok Dato Seri Paduka Haji Abidin (5th L) and spouse Datin Nurhayana Janis Abdullah (4th L) along with other invited guests during the Jane Eyre theatrical drama performance held at Universiti Teknologi Brunei. Image: Fazizul Haqimie

However, she added that through drama as a platform, students will be equipped to present themselves more effectively.

The stage adaptation of Jane Eyre was organised by UTB in collaboration with the Brunei Reading and Language Acquisition Project (ReLA) and the High Commission of Bangladesh to Brunei Darussalam.

The theatrical performance was attended by the guest of honour, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Yang Berhormat Major General Bersara Dato Paduka Seri Awang Haji Aminuddin Ihsan POKSM DSP Haji Abidin, Acting Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Teknologi Brunei, Dr Hajah Noor Maya Hj Md Salleh, Ambassador of Myanmar U Htin Lynn, the Ambassador of China, Yu Hong, and the High Commissioner of Canada, Jeanette Adele Stovel.

Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Yang Berhormat Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Haji Aminuddin Ihsan Pehin Orang Kaya Saiful Mulok Dato Seri Paduka Haji Abidin and spouse Datin Nurhayana Janis Abdullah along with other invited guests, stage crews and performers pose for a group photo during the Jane Eyre theatrical drama performance held at Universiti Teknologi Brunei. Image: Fazizul Haqimie

This article was first published on January 2, 2021 in our Weekly E-Paper issue 122

The Bruneian | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN 

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