Lyttelton, National Theatre – until 21 October 2017
The National Theatre are outstanding at championing new, innovative work and thinking outside the box to bring audiences spectacular shows, something which they have once again succeeded at with this Sally Cookson‘s production of Jane Eyre. In Bristol, the tale was split into two parts but artistic director Rufus Norris has wisely squeezed the action into one performance.
I’m sure I’m not alone in having gruelling flashbacks to A-level English literature when I hear Brontë’s novel mentioned, and what’s lovely about this adaptation, thanks to the minimal sets, is that it allows the audience to create the world of Jane Eyre with their imagination as they would do when reading the book.
The set is extremely modernistic in its simplistic design with no grand structures to show the various momentous locations in Jane’s life but instead using wooden platforms, metal structures and ladders as a framework for the action. The use of lighting is particularly impressive with white cloth backdrop that surrounds the stage being changed to different colours to show the various moods. The shocking red room is especially effective.
What struck me about this production is not only how modern it is in terms of aesthetics but how contemporary the character of Jane herself is. She’s feisty with strong morals and a real feminist side. Although having seen her as ahead of her time when I read the novel, I’d never realised how truly relatable she is until watching this production. Her quest for freedom whilst not compromising her passions is joyous to watch.
The strong use of physical theatre added an intensity to the piece, as well as flow, especially in the running transitions during Jane’s travels. The varying motion from smooth lyrical to frenzied, perfectly mirrored the changes in Jane’s physical and metal health throughout. Another particularly interesting aspect was members of the ensemble speaking Jane’s thought’s aloud. This was humourous at times but also a very clever way of developing the character more without her having to tell the audience anything directly.
The trio of onstage musicians added a whole other layer with a number of musical styles accompanying crucial moments and transitions. Melanie Marshall was absolutely fantastic both physically and vocally; singing atmospheric pieces to fit with other characters or her own, Bertha. Her voice is strong and angelic whilst having a menacing and painful side. Her rendition of Crazy was notably unexpected but brilliant and perfectly woven into the story.
As Jane, Nadia Clifford exceptionally plays the fiery 10 year old girl who transitions into a headstrong but more rational woman. Clifford perfectly shows Jane’s unyielding side but also her pain and love for Rochester. Tim Delap is suitably brooding as Rochester but adds a depth and awkwardness which makes him charming and attractive.
The entire ensemble are faultless but I must give a special mention firstly, to Paul Mundell who is hilarious as Pilot, adding some welcome humour. And secondly to Hannah Bristow who perfectly and distinctly plays Adele, Helen, Grace Poole and others.
This is a somewhat lengthy (3 hours and 15 minutes) play, but a striking production of a classic. The start is slightly slow but as we get into the action the momentum speeds up and we really get to see is the power of one of the first literary modern women.