Arriving just before the play started at 7pm, I was excited to see so many faces filling up the tiered seating at the Rep on Monday night. It was a great turnout for the Press Night, which meant I knew we were in for an evening of formidable acting.
National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic’s co-production of Charlotte Brontё’s Jane Eyre is currently touring 21 UK cities, performing to the theatre-goers of Birmingham from 4-16 September. 2017 is an important year for the legacy of Brontё’s pioneering novel, marking its 170th anniversary. Undoubtedly, this means immense pressure from critics and fans of the tale to do the masterpiece justice – stage adaptations of novels of this kind are notoriously difficult to execute.
I am pleased to say that National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic’s production, directed by Sally Cookson greatly exceeded my expectations. Cookson acknowledged the challenge, describing the prospect as ‘daunting,’ but I am so glad her determination surpassed her doubts and she delivered a stunning portrayal of the story of an outspoken orphan who grew into a headstrong and fiercely passionate woman.
The cast who brought Cookson’s vision to life were outstanding
The cast who brought Cookson’s vision to life were outstanding. Nadia Clifford fabulously depicted the progression of Jane Eyre’s character, seamlessly moving between her fiery and compassionate personalities. Tim Delap’s version of Edward Rochester was sincere, and at times witty and dry. He made the audience feel the same contempt, followed by appreciation for Mr. Rochester that they do when reading the novel. Evelyn Miller showed exceptional versatility in between her lively portrayals of Bessie, obnoxious Blanche Ingram and totally transformed into a very convincing, pious St. John. Hannah Bristow impressively flitted between three completely different accents as Helen Burns, Adele and Diana.
Melanie Marshall’s flawless, captivating voice echoed across the theatre, bringing a raw emotional summary of the story to the audience. Most enthralling was her beautiful rendition of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy. The way Cookson and Benji Bower (music) used Marshall to play Bertha Mason, Edward’s troubled wife, though unconventional, was stunning. Lynda Rook effortlessly personified both loathsome and loveable in the shape of Mrs. Reed and Mrs. Fairfax. Special mention must also go to Paul Mundell, for a capturing the creepy Mr. Brocklehurst so well, and also for his hilariously funny and accurate Pilot the dog. The actors’ scenes were complemented by talented on-stage musicians, the play becoming a wholly enticing experience.
One distinct image in my memory is of the characters warming their hands over a ‘fire,’ which created a silhouette of their hands and was just beautiful.
The simple set allowed the audience to completely focus on the actors, making them move fluidly and make use of the whole stage. The use of props, like the dresses on coat-hangers gradually descending onto the stage, and the window frames held by the characters was subtle but extremely effective. Finally the lighting, used to depict the ‘Red Room,’ the blazing fire at Thornfield and the soft handheld lanterns were excellent. One distinct image in my memory is of the characters warming their hands over a ‘fire,’ which created a silhouette of their hands and was just beautiful.
In the days after watching the play my mind is still reeling over how ahead of her time Charlotte Brontё was, which was beautifully reflected by Cookson, Clifford and the rest of the cast and crew. A definite must-see.
Buy tickets at www.birmingham-rep.co.uk
Article by Isobel Owen for Grapevine Birmingham