Jane Eyre is a long play, which somehow manages to feel significantly shorter. A good deal of that is a direct result of being clearly written by fans of Charlotte Brontë’s original book: it manages to fit a huge amount of plot in, in quite some detail – if you’re already a Brontë acolyte, that’s a recommendation and a half. If you’re not, the stage production is actually a surprisingly good place to start, and there’s no fear of you getting lost.
With source material so beloved by (let’s face it) a significant proportion of my fellow audience members, it’s tougher than it looks to put together an adaptation for the stage that stands up on its own merits. Michael Vale’s set is stark and striking, consisting mostly of wooden scaffolding and ladders upon which the cast climb and scramble, with a backdrop that is a blank canvas for Aideen Malone’s lighting design. Jane Eyre is worth watching for the tech alone.
Nadia Clifford as Jane runs the whole range from ten-year-old girl through to stubborn, self-realised adult. The other characters are also pretty good: Tim Delap’s Edward Fairfax Rochester falls right next to the crotchety older man of the original text, and all the more believable for it, even if the result is that Jane Eyre strikes further than usual adaptations from straight romance.
Melanie Marshall’s voice as Bertha is undeniably stunning, and a highlight of the play, but the character seems, if not underdeveloped, then misdeveloped: her moments in the spotlight seeming to be focused more on Jane than herself. And sure, Jane is the main character, but add to that the fact that one or two of the dramatic high points seemed like they were cut slightly short so as to fit everything in, it’s a shame that such an important secondary character seemed to have her punches pulled.
Jane Eyre also falls prey to one of my pet theatrical peeves, which seems to be rearing its head in the last few years – the use of one or two contemporary songs in a way that is an unwelcome jolt out of the story. For something so atmospheric, and otherwise with such beautiful composed music throughout, it’s a confusing narrative choice that pulled me out of the story. It’s a rare bum note in a production that is well thought out, emotionally engaging, and a visual effect appreciator’s particular delight.
Photos by BrinkhoffM & Âgenburg.