REVIEW: Jane Eyre (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

© Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
© Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
reviewer: Elise Gallagher
upstaged rating: 

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.

-Elise Gallagher

Jane Eyre runs at the Lowry Theatre, Salford until Saturday 15th April 2017. The tour continues at Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre from 18th – 22nd April. More tour dates/ venues can be found here.

REVIEW – Pomona (The Royal Exchange, Manchester)

Orange Tree Theatre presents in association with the National Theatre and the Royal Exchange Theatre --POMONA--
Orange Tree Theatre presents in association with the National Theatre and the Royal Exchange Theatre

Alastair McDowall’s Pomona was first performed in the round at the Orange Tree Theatre in 2014 before transferring to the National Theatre in 2015. Now, it plays in the main stage at Manchester’s Royal Exchange which is a stone throw away from Pomona island where the play is set.

The play opens with a peculiar parka and pants wearing character called Zeppo giving a comically long-winded account of a famous scene from ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark’ to Ollie, a young woman who is searching for her missing twin sister. With a mouthful of chicken nugget Zeppo (Guy Rhys) tells Ollie (Nadia Clifford) that he owns the whole city but doesn’t get involved with anything and offers the scene from Indiana Jones to highlight why some things should just be left well alone.

Under Ned Bennett’s stylish direction, what follows is a series of scenes leading up to the disappearance of Ollie’s sister. This whole narrative is segmented and does not follow a simple linear structure – it’s more like a jigsaw puzzle which the audience have to try and piece together. Exploring themes around sub-culture, gaming and the sinister underworld, Pomona is a brutal and gritty sci-fi thriller.

Georgia Lowe’s stripped set design complements McDowall’s dark story thread which charts flashbacks to Ollie’s sister meeting Fay (Rebecca Humphries) when she gets a job in a brothel; we also encounter Gale ( Rochenda Sandall) a seemingly powerful presence in the criminal underworld and two security guards Charlie (Sam Swann) and Moe (Sean Rigby). Alongside this we meet squeaky and mouse-like Keaton (Sarah Middleton) who meets with Charlie regularly for a game of Dungeons and Dragons. Sam Swann is particularly impressive as oddball Charlie and provides some very funny moments amidst the hopelessness.

Some theatre goers may find Pomona hard going – there is frequent strong language and the characters inhabit a place which some of the audience may prefer not to visit. As the play progresses the outlook for the characters becomes bleaker and the line between fantasy and reality more blurred. There is a sense of confusion and a lot of questions still remain unanswered by the end of the play. Ultimately, Pomona is a powerful, menacing and intelligent piece of work by Alastair McDowall.

-Kristy Stott

Pomona is running at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester until Sunday 21 November 2015.