BWW Review: JANE EYRE, Wales Millennium Centre
Originally staged at Bristol Old Vic in 2014, Jane Eyre then transferred to London's National Theatre and toured in 2015. Now on a new UK tour, this co-production shows Bronte's beloved classic magnificently refreshed and reinvented for the stage.
This year marks the 170th anniversary of the novel: the story of strong-willed and spirited orphan Jane searching for her place in the world. Refusing to be bound by conventions society strives to place upon her, she longs for excitement and a challenge for her inquisitive mind. She eventually finds herself at Thornfield Hall, governess to the ward of the brooding Mr Rochester. Each finds a kindred spirit in the other and they fall in love amid sinister secrets and a revelation that threatens to tear Jane's world apart.
The beloved status of the novel means it's a popular choice for adaptations. The challenge, then, becomes how best to balance preserving the spirit of the original text with elements that allow an audience scope for new and exciting interpretations. This production, devised by the original company with Olivier-nominated director Sally Cookson at the helm, manages it wonderfully, and the results are truly inventive.
Michael Vale's set design sets the tone for this exciting and engaging creative spirit with a collection of wooden platforms, ramps, steel ladders and frames. From these, the cast can swing, hang, climb and survey the action from various levels. The continuous movement adds a new dynamic and emotional weight to scenes, and you are often spoilt for choice as to where to look, in the best kind of way. His design is complemented by Aideen Malone's sensitive lighting, which includes a mixture of handheld and beautiful coloured backgrounds.
The crown jewel in the creative choices is Benji Bower's earthy, folk-inspired score. Alex Heane and other musicians are onstage throughout, both sharpening and softening the tone of scenes with remarkable ease, sometimes with just a single note or sound. There are more modern additions, like "Mad About The Boy" and Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" that may feel a little jarring initially, but with Melanie Marshall's ethereal vocal quality, they give the action new depth and intensity.
Heading a strong cast is Nadia Clifford, who captivates as Jane from beginning to end. Her journey from child into womanhood is totally believable and well-rounded, a blend of tenacity, wit and grace that captures the essence of Bronte's heroine perfectly.
Tim Delap is a remarkable Mr Rochester, suitably brooding and abrupt yet managing to infuse his portrayal with moments of great warmth and humour that are a joy to watch. Delap and Clifford are a wonderful match for each other, much like their novel counterparts.
Other members of the cast switch into and shine in multiple roles with remarkable ease, perhaps the most striking being Paul Mundell, who plays Mr Brocklehurst, Mason and even Rochester's dog, Pilot.
The production runs at roughly three hours, shorn down from two parts in the original run at Bristol Old Vic. The level of detail here is astounding, but as is a peril with any adaptation, elements from the original novel are shortened or lost entirely. The most striking here is perhaps Jane's return to Rochester without her discovery of her family or newfound wealth. An important part of her transition into independence, it marks her as his equal and its loss from the production stings a little as perhaps Jane doesn't quite come full circle in her character arc.
In the grand scheme of things, however, any such disappointment is short-lived. Instead of presenting the novel as a straight piece of costume drama, the tried and tested and indeed successful formula, the production focuses more on the central themes and mood. It allows us to look at the familiar anew, and the end result is a passionate, thought-provoking piece of theatre.
Photo Credit: Brinkhoff/Mögenburg