On 8th December, The National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic co-produced, performed and broadcasted a reworking of Charlotte Brontë’s classic, Jane Eyre, powerfully bringing the novel to life in a new and modern way but one which was true to the text. Sally Cookson’s direction was seamless and profoundly thought provoking, as she specifically highlighted Jane’s important sense of justice, and the liberation of the female body, physically, emotionally and sexually; ideas which are still vital to women today, despite the novel being published over 160 years ago.
As Jane Eyre is one of my favourite books and I have very strong images already established in my mind of characters, settings and landscapes, accumulated over the years of rereading the classic. I was anxiously anticipating how the National Theatre would successfully make me succumb to their own representations of the fiery heroine and fierce Byronic hero, but they did so within the first few minutes of the performance.
Initially, it was a little tricky to get my head around the minimalist and bare set design, consisting of merely wooden platforms and metal ladders, which didn’t seem to be doing justice to the vibrant descriptions of luxurious materials, houses and powerful landscapes that Brontë devotes pages and pages to analyse in detail. But the actors, through utter professionalism, made it seem like the dingy, repressive Lowood School, the luxurious home of the atrocious Aunt Reed, and the beautiful windswept moorlands of Northern England; Michael Vale’s design couldn’t have been more efficient and inventive.
Benji Bower’s musical direction completed the play perfectly, with the small ensemble semi-visible on stage, with the looming figure of opera singer Melanie Marshall floating above the characters throughout the play, foreboding the tragic end of Bertha Mason.
Undoubtedly, the focus of the audiences’ attention always was drawn back to the protagonist, portrayed by Madeleine Worrall, who performed the most believable and accurate Jane Eyre possible. Her acting was exquisitely executed and she effortlessly transformed from the young, vulnerable child at Lowood School, into the impressive, confident woman of Jane Eyre with just a change of outfit and hairstyle before our eyes.
An appropriately arrogant but perhaps overly brooding Rochester was delivered by Felix Hayes, who certainly fulfilled the Byronic outline of the male figure portrayed by Brontë in the text. He was unforgiving and passionate, his lines vigorously declared from a very deep and compelling voice as the audience was captivated by his take on Rochester.
This theatrical creation was outstanding; there was endless energy, enthusiasm and emotion throughout, and certainly left most of those around me speechless when the curtain fell at the end of the performance. A truly fantastic production of incredible professional exuberance, and one to not be missed.