One hundred and seventy years after publication, the character of Jane Eyre still resonates today. From the beginning of this new adaptation for the stage - a collaboration between National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic - the reader/audience is rooting for Jane, we see her "develop from a powerless child into an independent, free-thinking adult." - Director Sally Cookson.
Nadia Clifford is stunning in the role of Jane, transformed from a child to the adult Jane when she is helped into her corset and dress on stage by other cast members. The production is an ensemble piece performed seamlessly by seven actors and three musicians. Except for Jane, all play more than one part and are all on stage most of the time.
The stripped down, minimal set designed by Michael Vale is comprised of an enormous wooden structure, almost like a child’s play park climbing frame with various ramps and ladders. The actors move all over it with a choreographed, dancelike grace, as the director puts it, "perform[ing] and illustrat[ing] the physical and emotional struggle Jane encounters as she develops from a child into an independent woman." The set is surrounded by white curtains, used to great effect by changing colour and film projection. Dramatic use of real fire is stunning.
At the centre of the stage underneath the towering wooden platform are the musicians, making the band a central and intrinsic part of the production. Composer Benji Bower uses many genres including folk, Jazz, sacred, orchestral and pop to create Jane’s World.
Bertha Mason (Melanie Marshall) is dressed in bright red, contrasting with the muted colours worn by the rest of the ensemble. She is always alone, gliding around the set and illustrating with song the life of Jane, very much part of the story but running parallel to it as opposed to with it. Hidden in plain sight as in the book, Melanie Marshall as Bertha is subtly imposing: she doesn’t speak but uses her remarkable singing voice to outstanding effect.
This touring production was originally shown over two nights, then stripped back to three hours (including an interval). Sometimes the telling of Jane’s story jumps a little clumsily from one event to another, probably because of the necessary edits to get the majority of the book in: a small point as the overall pace and enjoyment is very much there.
The whole cast are phenomenal, their energy breathtaking. To climb ladders for three hours is no mean feat, everyone moving with perceived effortlessness with such smoothness and elegance. A truly remarkable performance and production.
Jane Eyre runs at York Grand Opera House until 27 May. Book tickets below.BOOK. TICKETS