reviewer: Elise Gallagher
Following a critically acclaimed run at London’s National Theatre, Wednesday the 12th April saw Salford’s Lowry Theatre fling open its doors to the Bristol Old Vic’s stage adaptation of Jane Eyre.
2017 marks the 170th anniversary of the publication of Charlotte Brontë’s most famous piece, a tale of passion, justice and madness set against the backdrop of Yorkshire’s haunting moors. Director Sally Cookson’s adaptation is set amongst a bare wooden frame, with platforms on varying levels used throughout the performance. Adapting a novel for the stage is a challenging prospect, especially such a timeless classic – however, Cookson states that by not approaching the piece as a costume drama, allowed the company to explore the themes and get the heart of both the story and the characters in a theatrical way. Choosing to adopt an authentic set and period costume would have suffocated the story Cookson says, and in doing so would have killed the magic.
One thing must not go without note, the production is a mammoth one, a total of three hours, plus a 15-minute interval. Initially, the adaptation was presented in two parts when performed at the Bristol Old Vic, however shifting to London and beginning a UK tour has seen the production travel as a single performance.
Although I would say that this running time could have been cut down, I’m quite glad it wasn’t. The story didn’t seem rushed or forced in any way but flowed just as naturally as the icy winds that haunt the place.
The cast are outstanding. Nadia Clifford played a phenomenal Jane, I particularly admired how she seamlessly progressed from the loud and defiant girl to the calm yet highly ambitious Governess, craving more for herself in life. The shift was subtle and expertly done.
Tim Delap takes on the role of Mr Rochester and does an incredibly successful job portraying the infamously complicated and troubled character. The chemistry between Delap and Clifford is incredible, both played their parts to the standard of any die-hard Brontë fan.
Evelyn Miller deserves a lot of praise rotating between the characters of Bessie, Blanche Ingram and St. John; such versatility should be applauded. Of course, Ben Cutler as Mr Rochester’s dog Pilot granted the audience much needed light comedic moments to punctuate the brooding of his owner.
Even now, whilst I sit writing this I have the almost unfathomable voice of Melanie Marshall dancing around my head. She is present throughout the show, either singing from one of the bare platforms or lurking towards the back, always watching. In all honesty, I was surprised when I realised she was playing the role of Bertha Mason, Rochester’s estranged wife. Her omnipresent voice sent chills down the audience but also left us with mouths wide in awe. Performing songs such as Noël Coward’s Mad About the Boy and Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy in such a haunting way, enabled the modern pieces to blend perfectly with the classic tale. Her recurring presence only heightened the anticipation for the clash between her and our protagonist.
On taking my seat I noticed that there was a small set up for musicians included on the stage. My heart fell initially, dreading that this adaptation would include Disney-like songs for our characters. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised. The band was made up of three musicians (Matthew Churcher, Alex Heane, and David Ridley) who did an exceptional job in supplying a score to the piece, as well as taking on characters such as school children and coach passengers. The first coach journey threw me at first with the abrupt change in tone but then continued to work incredibly well – not distracting from the drama of the stage at all, only heightening it.
Charlotte Brontë did long for the story’s narrative to play out from the book, and although it sadly did not replicate her own life, it certainly deserves its place on the stage. The production received a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd, I suggest you see it.