National Theatre’s touring production of Jane Eyre coincides with the 170th anniversary of the first publication of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, and whether it’s a coincidence or not, it is the perfect way to mark the occasion. I’ve seen National Theatre productions before and have not been disappointed, and I was equally impressed by this imaginative interpretation of the book, which premiered at the Lowry Theatre last week.
The set and cast were both minimal – basic wooden structures were turned into scenes from Jane’s childhood and the imposing Thornfield Hall using just a few additional pieces flown in and hung from the ceiling, and a cast of 10 actors and musicians portrayed everything from the orphan girls at Lowood Institution to Rochesters dog! I find this kind of creative staging very exciting and it really held my interest. It was amazing how they were able to capture the feeling of being trapped and then feeling free, with nothing but a few square frames of wood and a breeze!
If you don’t know the story of Jane Eyre then I suppose I would summarise it as a feminist love story. I found the gradual development of the love between Jane and Rochester was completely perfect in this show, thanks to some amazing chemistry from the actors Nadia Clifford and Tim Delap. And the feminist element of the story, which comes into play as Jane finds it difficult to give up her independence to follow her heart, still feels relevant even today!
The only downside to the show is its length at over 3 hours, which I think this is very long for a play – particularly one which has such bleak beginnings. The best of the play only really began once Rochester came on the scene, and I would have liked to get there a bit faster if I’m honest. But I loved the modern interpretation of the story with elements of humour and the addition of music to set the tone of different scenes. Actually, one of my favourite bits was when the actress playing Bertha sang “Mad About the Boy” as an atmospheric backdrop to Jane realising she loves Rochester at the same time as believing she will never have him.
Jane Eyre is a co-production between the National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic. It is touring theatres in the UK until September, and is well worth a watch!
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