Jane Eyre

The latest adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's most beloved novel, Jane Eyre, was devised by the company at the Bristol Old Vic, led by Sally Cookson. The story tells of Jane’s childhood as an orphan in a bleakly religious school, then her job as a governess in the house of the novel’s hero, the eccentric and brooding Mr Rochester.

Whatever the intention, the effect of all these long sequences is to make the play quite boring.

Although the production is basically unsuccessful, it is worth saying that this is no fault of the excellent cast. Hannah Bristow is a shining light in this production. She’s an accomplished character actor, and her Helen Burns is as bluntly angelic as her Grace Poole is understatedly creepy. Paul Muddell is also a real hit. He spends most of the second act playing a dog, and is nonetheless everyone's favourite character. Nadia Clifford's Jane is steadfast and courageous, really justifying her presence in the centre of the action. Melanie Marshall's incredible singing is also worthy of note. She brings much-needed atmosphere to the piece. Also appreciated are the accurate regional accents—Helen is from Northumbria, Jane never loses her accent, and only Tim Delap's Mr Rochester uses the received pronunciation that most historical dramas are plagued with.

When the actors are left to deliver the scenes effectively, the show works brilliantly. Unfortunately, they are very rarely permitted to do so. The production seems determined to alienate the audience from the emotional experience of the story at every turn. Short scenes are interspersed with long and baffling periods of physical theatre in which we are obliged to watch the cast pretend to be passengers on a coach, or run energetically around the stage to convey a long and frantic journey. It’s all a bit Sixth Form Theatre Studies, and I was left sincerely unsure whether these long sections were designed to express the emotions of the story, or distance us from them.

Whatever the intention, the effect of all these long sequences is to make the play quite boring. The scene near the start, for example, in which both of Jane’s parents die, could be visceral and emotional, but instead they choose to render it using an abstract dramatic sequence that entirely detracts from the real heart of what is happening. Scenes that could have interesting character interaction are instead delivered with both actors facing the audience. All very artistic, but it robs the play of much needed drama. The distancing effect of all this is a real shame because the original novel is an expression of passion and love and energy, all of which the play seems determined not to let us feel.

Also worth bearing in mind is that this play is two hours and forty minutes long. To make a production so much longer than average is a real indulgence that must be diligently earned. In this most essential of tasks, the production fails.

Reviews by Grace Knight

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★★★★
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★★★★
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★★★★★
Theatre Royal Glasgow

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★★★
Theatre Royal Glasgow

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★★
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★★★★

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The Blurb

Following a critically acclaimed season at the National Theatre, Jane Eyre will be touring the UK from April 2017. This innovative re-imagining of Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece is a collaboration between the National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic and is directed by Sally Cookson.

The classic story of the trailblazing Jane is as inspiring as ever. This bold and dynamic production uncovers one woman’s fight for freedom and fulfilment on her own terms. Jane Eyre’s spirited heroine faces life’s obstacles head-on, surviving poverty, injustice and the discovery of bitter betrayal before taking the ultimate decision to follow her heart.

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