Nadia Clifford

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

Pomona

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03/11/15

Royal Exchange, Manchester

Something decidedly strange is happening on Pomona – the deserted concrete island that sits between Salford and Manchester in the middle of the river Irwell. In this dystopian future world, women are going missing in worrying numbers, while Gale (Rochenda Sandall) is taking extreme lengths to conceal what’s actually happening to them. Meanwhile, security guards Moe and Charlie, are charged with the task of guarding something hidden beneath the ground, something they don’t know anything about; and what does all this have to do with the ancient octopus-faced god, Cthulhu? It’s a good question and one I’m still not entirely sure I have the answer to.

Fresh from its success at the National Theatre in London, Alistair McDowall’s Pomona now makes its debut in the city where it’s actually set. It’s a labyrinthine tale, featuring seven disparate characters. The play’s themes: prostitution, sexuality and murder are probably intended to shock, but in truth these elements aren’t anything like as convincing as the ones that deal with Role Playing Games, something that seems to provide the main clue as to what’s actually going on here. The story isn’t told in a linear way – instead, it switches back and forth in time, so sometimes we know what’s going to happen to a character before he or she actually gets there.

The play begins with underwear-clad wheeler-dealer Zeppo (Guy Rhys) performing an extended monologue based around the climactic scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark for Ollie (Nadia Clifford) who is looking for her missing twin sister. Zeppo advises her not to look too hard, pointing out that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. But she goes looking anyway…

Individually, the ensuing scenes are mostly good, nicely acted and occasionally very funny – the ones featuring the hapless Charlie (Sam Swann) are particularly successful in this regard – and there are some nicely choreographed sections, where everything promises to fall into place, but never quite does. The fragmented nature of the work makes it feel more like a collection of short pieces in search of a story arc, so the overall play is somehow less than the sum of its parts, even if many of those parts offer much to admire.

Ultimately, I felt that Pomona was a little too pleased with itself for comfort – but the enthusiastic applause from tonight’s audience suggested that others found it captivating. One thing’s for sure. Here’s another play that will have you discussing its meaning long after you’ve headed for home.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney