BWW Review: JANE EYRE, National Theatre At Home
After the riotous One Man Two Guvnors from The National Theatre At Home series, comes Sally Cookson's fervent adaptation of Jane Eyre. This intensely theatrical production is full of atmosphere and gothic chill. In these difficult times, it is three hours of escapism to a windy Yorkshire moor.
Charlotte Brontë would almost certainly approved of this re-imagining of her masterpiece; a woman is asked to accept her position in life without question, but how can she feel any fulfilment without choice and purpose? The relevance of this position is as poignant today as it ever was.
Madeleine Worrall makes a great Jane Eyre; diminutive in stature, yet full of conviction and inner strength. She moves from nervous and abused child to defiant governess with ease, pushing against the entrapment that society places on her due to her sex and poverty.
Jane's internal voice is portrayed by the cast working as a chorus and vividly show the rebellion of her independent spirit against her feelings of confinement. Their synchronised movement is very effective and creates a sense of huge energy. This is a very physical production, which works well, but occasionally the constant movement around the stage by the cast is a little distracting.
Felix Hayes is an effective and suitably brooding Rochester, focusing on the anger and brutality of the character bubbling under the surface of his cold veneer of respectability.
In many ways the most impressive and substantial character is Bertha, played wonderfully by Melanie Marshall. Marshall is understated as she inhabits the lost and childlike quality of the character, slowly wandering around the stage and singing in a truly haunting manner. Her version of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" is both melancholy and disquieting, as is an unsettling rendition of "Mad About The Boy". Indeed, Benji Bower's carefully constructed music is integral to the atmospheric feel of the production.
Michael Vale's set is stark and stripped-back, with a raised platform that serves as a bed, dressing room and attic space. The billowing background of white curtains contrasts beautifully with the demonic flooding of scarlet as Jane is locked in the terrifying red room and, of course, the flickering flames as Thornfield burns down.
It is welcome that this production focuses more on Jane's life, rather than solely on the romantic elements of her story with Rochester. However, it is a shame that Jane's inheritance is not mentioned and that she appears to return to Rochester for solely romantic reasons, when the book also details the practical reasons for her doing so.
At three hours, the show feels a little long, with the first half dragging at points and the second half seeming a little quick. However, even for those who have never read the book, this production stands on its own feet for the sheer energy of the chorus and the immersive quality of the gothic atmosphere.
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan