Charlotte Brontë’s bildungsroman novel Jane Eyre comes to life in this production by the Bristol Old Vic and the National Theatre directed by Sally Cookson. The eponymous heroine lives and learns hardship from her childhood through to her adult life as she faces a turbulent upbringing at Lowood school, leading her to Thornfield Hall as a governess for Mr Rochester’s ward.
The imposing set at first felt a little contrived, like it was there as an unnecessary exploit and attempt to be inventive rather than serving a specific purpose. But this was quickly transformed as the ensemble swiftly navigate the many ladders and ramps to form a complex structure with many uses. Michael Vale’s set design really clicks when presented as Rochester’s home, Thornfield Hall, as the long corridor and different levels add a sense of depth and diversity to the stage.
What really makes this production stand out is its versatile cast. From the live band on stage underscoring poignant moments in the text and breaking up the dialogue, to the multi-roling actors playing all manner of parts including a very realistic Pilot the dog – a serious highlight in the show. Nadia Clifford plays Jane, she is completely feisty and unforgiving as the heroine, exploring both the childlike elements of Jane and her immense maturity later in the performance. The Byronic hero Mr Rochester is played by Tim Delap who portrays an equal balance of mystery and self-assurance. Melanie Marshall gives a wonderful performance as Bertha Mason who also lends her voice throughout to reveal complexities unbeknownst to Jane. Her rich almost operatic quality is exquisite as her renditions of Noël Coward’s “Mad About the Boy” and Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” are performed alongside an original score composed by Benji Bower.
This proto-feminist novel is explored on stage entirely convincingly, while adding elements of modernity to the well known original text from the music and sound design to the elaborate set. See this stylised remake of the classic on tour until 23rd September 2017.