A period drama set on a stage of scaffolding? It sounds like it shouldn’t quite make sense, but somehow works perfectly for Sally Cookson’s production of Jane Eyre.
Against a sparse background of wooden platforms & metal ladders designed by Michael Vale, the ever-enduring story of Jane Eyre is brought to life & up to date in mesmerizing fashion. The small cast is comprised of ten actors, including three musicians who help to form the musical soundtrack throughout, which includes recent songs such as Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, and Noel Coward’s Mad About The Boy. (Sung hauntingly by the incredibly talented Melanie Marshall) Having the live band visible on stage further adds to the feeling of modernity in this production, which was a conscious decision by the director. Speaking to the National Theatre, she admits that “I didn’t want authentic set and period costume to suffocate it, killing the essence and magic of the story.” Rest assured taking such a gamble on the re-telling of one of the world’s most beloved books has certainly paid off – your attention never wanes from the very first scene.
The title character is played by Nadia Clifford, and it’s a role which requires just as much comedic timing as it does brevity, which she certainly brings to the table. Jane begins her life as an orphan, and as she grows up, continues to face hardships & struggles. Despite the near constant adversity, she is a tenacious girl who is determined to fight on for her freedom. Nadia’s Jane is small yet tough, feisty yet intensely vulnerable, and you feel for her throughout the whole play. At times what could be an overly serious subject is given an injection of humour with perfect delivery from Nadia, (When asked by her schoolmaster what she must do to avoid Hell, Jane replies that she “Must keep in good health and not die.”) Such flashes of comedy are continuous throughout the play, which does wonders to lift the tone.
When most people think of Jane Eyre, they inevitably think also of Mr Rochester, the brooding object of her affections. Played by Tim Delap, this Rochester is a world away from the gloomy image often brought to life in previous adaptations of Charlotte Bronte’s novel. He appears in possession of a wry sense of humour which helps to further explain Jane’s attraction! As they spend more time together on stage the chemistry is palpable between Jane and Rochester, with the two actors acutely portraying the anguish they experience as they struggle to come to terms with their feelings for one another.
However, as much as Jane Eyre is almost instantaneously recognized the world over as an epic love story, Sally Cookson was at pains to ensure this wasn’t the only focal point of the play. She says she was “Struck by the weight the novel places on individual human rights…I like to think of it as a life story rather than just a love story.” From the opening scene of Jane’s birth and the cruelty she suffered at the hands of her aunt as a child to the challenges she faces as an adult, you are there for her every step of the way, rooting her on. She tackles her need for intellectual and spiritual fulfilment through dark times, following the advice of a friend – “We’re all burdened by faults. Love your enemies and bless those that curse you.” Which, let’s be honest, is advice the world could be doing with a little more of these days!
Review by Lauren Bassett
Jane Eyre will run to 10th June at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal