Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, like lots of classic fiction, has been mined over the decades for adaptations on radio, television, stage and for the big screen. Jane’s story, and that of the roguish Mr Rochester, is arguably part of the modern pop culture psyche, with most people aware of some part of the story even if they haven’t read the original text… so can you give new life to such a widely adapted and frequently referenced text? The National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic prove that it is more than possible with their touring production that is brought to the Festival Theatre in spectacular style.
The impressive set, which is central to this adaptation, turns its back on any realistic interpretations of grand manor houses. The collection of ladders and platforms evokes a children’s playground and is surrounded on three sides by large white curtains that at times are dazzlingly bright and at others provide dark corners where shadows are thrown. This set is used throughout the performance to symbolise Jane’s journeys and to create different levels where characters can watch or be watched by other other members of the cast.
To this impressive set, the cast and live band are added. Once Jane, played by Nadia Clifford, steps on stage, she’s present for every scene and only given a small amount of respite in the 15 minute interval. This is no small feat in a show that runs at almost three hours and Clifford delivers a captivating performance throughout, from ten year old Jane through to adulthood.
Although Jane is the natural star of the show, this performance is notable for its excellent use of its ensemble cast. Each member of the cast steps into several different roles and negotiate costume changes and even lighting roles to create a real sense of dynamism and movement that carries the show along. The ghostly Bertha Mason is played to perfection by Melanie Marshall who has an exquisite voice and delivers a haunting rendition of Mad About the Boy to rival Dinah Washington’s.
This production of Jane Eyre is a real triumph for a talented ensemble cast who deliver the physically demanding, multi-tasking nature of their roles with ease. The modern soundtrack, impressive set and creative choices with staging and lighting mean that this is an adaptation that truly lives up to the greatness of its source text.