Jane Eyre, Birmingham REP - review and pictures
In a list of great English novels there are many by authors writing in the 19th Century.
The works of Austen, Dickens, Eliot, Hardy and Bennett feature so strongly not just because they are great tales with strong characters but also because they are careful observers of the social history of England.
We learn much about the education system and factory conditions as well as the seasonal life cycle of agricultural communities, and this style of writing is quite often reflected in books by authors in the 20th Century.
One of the prime examples must be Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre—now brought to the stage in a joint production by the National Theatre and the Bristol Old Vic.
It is a long novel with a plot that has more twists and turns than a roller-coaster ride at Alton Towers. This has led to this adaptation having some sections of the story cut and other important landmarks in the story being much curtailed.
However, Sally Cookson’s clever and inventive production is a brilliant piece of theatre, lively when necessary but also capturing the relationships between the main characters most effectively.
The set is a minimalist structure rather like a 3D version of Snakes and Ladders which the cast clamber around with the sure-footed confidence and energy of mountain-goats.
Benji Bower’s music mixes pop and folk, delivered by an on-stage group of musicians, and with Melanie Marshall particularly making a powerful vocal contribution. I’m not sure, though, that the Kyrie extract or Mad About The Boy were entirely congruous with the events on stage.
It’s a relatively small cast who work hard to cover all the parts. Hannah Bristow appears as Helen/Adele/Diana/Grace and the Abbott, while Paul Mundell plays not only Mr Brocklehurst and Mason but also performs very entertainingly as the playful puppy Pilot. Lynda Rooke is convincing as the cruel and cold Mrs Reed and the warm-hearted Mrs Fairfax.
Tim Delap makes a strong character of Mr Rochester adequately capturing the moral dilemma he faces and Nadia Clifford gives a feisty performance in the title role. She makes her way through life determined to face up to unfairness and injustice, and is presented here as a prototype feminist. At one point she declares, “I am a free human being, with an independent will.”
This desire to be independent does get her into some tricky situations, but in the end all is happily resolved because, reader, she married him.
Jane Eyre runs at the REP until September 16.
By Jerald Smith