Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

15/05/17

When it comes to adapting a work of classic fiction, there are basically two ways you can go. You can opt to be as faithful to the original as possible, depicting it scene by scene, or you can bend the rules somewhat and come at it from an entirely different direction. In the case of The National Theatre’s production of Jane Eyre, they haven’t so much bent the rules as torn up the book and started over – and yet, I’ve rarely seen the spirit of a story captured quite as convincingly as this.

Susan has already seen the play – during a brief visit to London – and she came back raving about it (https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2015/10/04/jane-eyre/), so I was delighted when I heard that it was going out on tour. Now I can absolutely understand what she was so enthused about. This is a powerful production that eschews the straightforward plod of earlier adaptations in favour of a nimble, expressionistic approach, where the performers hurtle back and forth across the stylised set, climbing ladders, descending staircases and barely pausing to draw breath. They manage to pull the audience in and carry them along for the ride.

It’s probably pointless to recount the particulars of such a famous story. Suffice to say that Jane (Nadia Clifford)’s birth, abandonment and adoption are dealt with visually in a matter of minutes. Her subsequent coach journey is depicted in a simple but totally convincing manner and, despite the fact that the actors switch effortlessly from character to character throughout the play (Paul Mundall even portrays Rochester’s dog, Pilot!), we are never at a loss as to who is who at any given moment – even when Jane’s thoughts manifest themselves in human form, asking her difficult questions at pivotal moments in the proceedings.

While this is not exactly a musical, it is a play with music, and it is integral to the show. The musicians are onstage at all time and Bertha (Melanie Marshall), a formidable presence in a bright red dress, delivers a series of haunting songs, including the most original version of Gnarls Barclay’s Crazy that I’ve ever heard. Clifford succeeds in conveying Jane’s fieriness (something that earlier adaptations have missed entirely), and Tim Delap’s Rochester is also impressive, a brusque hulking presence, who literally towers over Clifford’s ‘poor, obscure, plain and little’ form as they converse. Anyone worried that the limitations of a stage might rob the story of its climactic scene – the fire – need have no worries on that score. It’s right there and is utterly convincing.

If you can get a ticket for this then I would urge you to do so. It’s one of the most convincing literary adaptations I’ve ever seen, an absolute must-see.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

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Jane Eyre

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03/10/15

National Theatre, London

Jane Eyre is one of my favourite books, but I’ve been bitterly disappointed by most film and theatre adaptations, despairing of directors who interpret Jane as quiet and reserved. Thank goodness then for this collaboration between the National Theatre and Bristol’s Old Vic, devised by the company, which is by far the best I have ever seen.

It’s a dynamic interpretation, eschewing the rigid formula of a period drama, in favour of a more holistic view of the novel. This makes for a surprisingly faithful telling of the narrative: free from the confines of a naturalistic set and strict chronology, director Sally Cookson has created space for Jane’s whole story to be centre stage.

The set is functional: a series of wooden boards and platforms linked by steps and ladders. It works, each of the locations rendered believable by the way in which the actors interact with it. This is a very physical production, with actors hurtling up and down and all around. With less assured direction it could all seem chaotic; in these hands, it’s a lively, energetic delight, with all Jane’s feisty, angry, raging spirit spilling out over the stage.

Madeleine Worrall, as Jane, embodies that spirit perfectly, and Melanie Marshall’s musical Bertha, dressed in red and looming large throughout Jane’s life, is truly glorious: Jane’s inner self writ large, demanding both our attention and our care.

There is humour too. Craig Edwards’ Pilot is a triumph of physical theatre: a huge, enthusiastic, bounding dog brought convincingly to life. Laura Elphinstone’s Adele is equally engaging, a needy, sweet and funny child, just desperate for love.

But this is ensemble theatre, and the whole cast work together well. I can’t do justice here to the breadth of ideas sewn so seamlessly into this play. It’s an imaginative, exciting and innovative piece of theatre, breathing fresh life into a tale I thought I knew too well.

Do try to catch it if you can.

5 stars

Susan Singfield