Review Roundup: JANE EYRE at the Bristol Old Vic
Sally Cookson's adaptation of Jane Eyre opened at the Bristol Old Vic on 20 February and runs through 29 March. Let's see what the critics had to say:
Kris Hallett of WhatsOnStage says: The two parts Jane Eyre at Bristol Old Vic is big, bold programming on the part of the always adventurous Bristol Old Vic....Sally Cookson's devised adaptation...puts one in mind of previous successful book adaptations such as the RSC's Nicholas Nicklebly. If it doesn't quite hit the scales of that work, its not through lack of ideas and vision, ultimately it boils down to a need for a firm snip on script...With a hardworking cast of just seven and three musicians (who also sometimes step into the acting arena) there is a lot of thrilling, alchemical work going on...Benji Bower's simply superlative score,... With Marshall's breathtaking vocals, swooping and haunting in equal measure, I doubt you'll be able to find a better musical score anywhere....Madeleine Worrall is superb as Jane... You leave feeling that Cookson will soon enough deliver us a stage masterpiece for the 21st century. Though Jane Eyre isn't quite it...the amount of joy, exuberance and invention at large ensures this day in the theatre is nothing if not well spent.
Lynn Gardner of The Guardian says: Best of all is the way the production always pays close attention to the changing tenor and nuances of Jane's emotional journey from damaged angry child to independent woman. Much of that is due to Benji Bower's dazzling score and arrangements, delivered with soaring purity by Melanie Marshall, who plays Rochester's mentally ill wife, Bertha. It creates a fascinating double effect, as if one woman's struggle for freedom is constantly mirrored by the pain of another woman, caged by mental illness and the bars of the attic. Jane and Rochester's final reconciliation comes with an aching sense of loss.
Charles Spencer of the Daily Telegraph says: In a characteristically witty touch when Jane Eyre first feels her heart stirring for Mr Rochester, the soulful singer Melanie Marshall (who also plays Bertha Mason, the loony first wife in the attic) delivers a knock out rendition of Noël Coward's Mad About The Boy. Brilliantly, the song can be seen as referring to both Bertha herself and Jane Eyre. The heroine's long journeys by coach and horses are also imaginatively caught by the entire cast running on the spot to the point of exhaustion.
Griselda Murray Brown of FT says: Sally Cookson's vivid production of Jane Eyre at the Bristol Old Vic avoids the pitfalls - such as trying to dramatise what is inherently untheatrical - while staying faithful to Charlotte Brontë's story. Told in two parts of roughly two hours each, it devotes time to Jane's early, formative years where film versions have focused on her relationship with Rochester. We see how her cousins' bullying and the punishing Christianity of her school foreshadow the trials of adult life - including Rochester's overbearing love. Madeleine Worrall gives a powerful performance in the title role: she is convincing whether playing a bawling infant or a passionate lover.
Eleanor Turney of A Younger Theatre says: It's a good production, and extremely well-acted, but I do question whether it justifies its length. Cookson states that she felt that Jane's early life is as important as what happens to her later in life, but I'm not sure that I agree. I also remain unconvinced that it's as modern a story as Cookson claims. Jane has some lines that strike a chord, and the struggle of women to throw off the shackles of patriarchal oppression is always a winner. Ultimately, though, the subordination of the women, to men and to God, cannot be escaped, simply because the book is so rooted in its place and time.