EVERYONE believes they know the story of Jane Eyre, a timid governess sent to teach the spoilt Adele, ward to Mr Rochester, the master of Thornfield Hall, following her own brutal childhood education and the subsequent trials and tribulations they endure, writes our theatre critic Kerry Black
My own personal memories include Orson Welles as Rochester, rearing up on his horse in the storm-crackled black and white 1943 film, the 1970s TV series starring Sorcha Cusack and of course reading Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 novel.
The National Theatre’s brilliant new production, directed by Sally Cookson, rips up the rule book. Jane is no longer a timid wee cratur, but a feisty central core to the story (stunningly played by Nadia Clifford, who believably transforms from an abused young child to a passionate woman).
The set (designed by Michael Vale) foregoes our standard ghoulish, Gothic expectations, for a labyrinth of ladders and platforms allowing the drama to burl and whirl as the cast transform from character to character, changing costumes and accents as they go! Aideen Malone’s eerie lighting set with it’s chilling red room, deserves special praise, as does Katie Syke’s Costume Design. Flying costumes transform Jane from governess to bride, while her plain grey garb is offset by the blood red dress of Rochester’s lunatic first wife Bertha, he sits between them clad in grey with a blood red patterned waistcoat.
Normally Bertha is played as a deranged dervish, however, in this play, the magnificent Melanie Marshall, calmly prowls the set, narrating the tale through a series of songs, ranging from Mad About The Boy to Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, while the on stage band haunt the set with their sinister fiddle and accordion ensemble as real flames lick the set!
In an era of custom and convention, Rochester (compellingly played by Tim Delap), begs Jane to push aside class and conscience and join him. Jane’s compassion lies at the heart of this spiritual tale where faith and fear, God and grief stalk the stage.
The entire cast excel, playing multiple roles, although special mention must got to Paul Mundell’s tail wagging performance as Pilot the dog!
The Bronte’s themselves continue to intrigue us, how could a young woman, brought up in an impoverished parsonage, create such passion? I wonder how many current novels will continue to mesmerise and enthral audiences almost 170 years after publication?
The National Theatre has created an incredible, unforgettable tribute to the spirit of both Charlotte and Jane.
Jane Eyre is on at The Festival Theatre, Edinburgh until Saturday 20th May at 7.30pm nightly plus 2.30pm matinees on Thursday and Saturday. To book call 0131 529 6000.