Mayflower Theatre, Southampton – until 13 May 2017
Guest reviewer: Sarah Miatt
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte has been a much-loved book since it was written in 1847. It has inspired many unofficial sequels, plays, television serials and films. An important work, which is used in the teaching of English Literature in educational courses all over the world. The story of the plain, abused governess finally finding her home and her love after overcoming many hardships has been read and reread for over a century and will remain timeless.
This touring adaptation from the National Theatre was very different from any previous production. It was innovative and concentrated very much on the physical side of performance. A very stark and plain set used in a fascinating way with the climbing of many ladders and different levels. The only hint of where in Jane’s life we were was from slight gestures to it flying in from the ceiling. This accomplished two things. Firstly it meant that one’s eye was rarely, if ever drawn from the actor meaning you could completely immerse yourself in the performance. Secondly it really allowed the excellent and atmospheric sound and lighting to do the work through these two things and the actors on stage the mood was very effectively set.
Despite the modern nature of the set, the costumes were very much of the period. They were also very cleverly thought out and easily adapted for the many quick changes that this small cast had to do. All were very muted colours apart from the vibrant red of Bertha Mason signifying her madness to perfection.
This cast under the able direction of Sally Cookson were nothing short of extraordinary. Phoebe Vigor who was performing as Jane Eyre was never off stage. Even her costume changes were completed in front of the audience. She was a far more spirited Jane than previous incarnations have allowed. Vigor passionate and strong being particularly good at playing the young Jane with a beautiful naive quality.
Tim Delap as Edward Rochester was perfect for the role. He was imposing and moody and you could feel the passion he was putting forward. Whilst Dami Olukoya played the madness of Bertha Mason extremely well through the medium of song. The amount of climbing running done in this show was very intense and the cast must be exhausted after every performance.
Permanently on stage throughout was the live band which was a lovely touch. The music performed almost like a film score enhancing every aspect of this production. Use of contemporary songs such as ‘Mad About the Boy’ and ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley were used to great effect.
Although this is a very unusual adaptation it is an extremely effective one. It is far more about the life of Jane Eyre than her love affair with Mr Rochester which is so often the focus of productions of it. It is innovative and moving and very much worth going to see at The Mayflower or when on tour.