Writer: Charlotte Bronte
Adaptor/Director: Sally Cookson
Reviewer: Mel Duncan
Jane Eyre has long been forced to suffer the misrepresentation of being Bronte’s seemingly fated romantic heroine, fodder for many creative and dramatic interpretations, predominantly focusing upon the romantic attachments formed by the protagonist. How refreshing to witness an Eyre so clearly and confidently self-sufficient – this ‘love story’ is more an exploration of the development of ‘self-love’, made all the more poignant by the heroine’s humble beginnings.
What is notably evident with this piece is the ownership of every line, movement and glance. Nothing is wasted, no moment, however fleeting, is superfluous. Sally Cookson’s skilful choice to originally devise this piece in the rehearsal room has conceived a depth born only through free exploration of a story by an allied but differently minded company of individuals. Jane Eyre has been challenged, unpicked and born again. Even in this reincarnation for touring, there is a true sense of possession by the company.
Michael Vale’s set is complex, full of ladders, steps and thick wooden posts – not unlike structures seen in a children’s playground, encapsulated in a curtained white box. The open nature of the set is seemingly at odds with the oppressive nature of Jane Eyre’s existence, but clever use of flown in paintings, dresses, and windows used by the cast to fence the protagonist in soon close the space down when necessary. This set creates an element of mischief, and the expectation of energy, pace and movement. This is no empty promise – the cast work hard covering every inch of the jungle gym with grace and skill. Dan Canham’s movement is stylised and assured, the company working as one to create carriages and separating to show individual responses to events. On the whole, the show flows and is skilfully paced by the use of movement. The one hitch is that occasionally movement on entrances and exits appears disjointed from the theatrical intention, and more concerned with making full use of the ‘busy’ set. A minor issue though.
Nadia Clifford shines in the title role of Jane Eyre. Encapsulating the purest sense of feminism, Clifford provides a positive female role model in her portrayal of a strong, infallible woman, In exploring the wider story, rather than the romantic aspects, Jane Eyre is elevated to a character with true dynamism and might, Clifford taking charge and controlling her destiny, rather than passively allowing situations to unfold, beautifully wild and desperate for freedom. Likewise, the station of Bertha Mason is elevated, rather like the all-seeing Shakespearian fool, as Melanie Marshall’s sultry temptress stalks the set, staying at the fringe of the action, for the first act appearing to be simply a one-woman chorus, but gradually becoming more present as the mad woman in the attic herself. Her resonant and agile mezzo-soprano is simply gorgeous – rich, velvety and bittersweet, like fine artisan chocolate. It exquisitely realises Benji Bowers exciting original and arranged score, blending with the plethora of instruments in the pit, cocooned in the very centre of the set – a symbolic representation of the importance of the folksy, jazz influenced music as the heartbeat of the piece.
Rochester is brash and rude, but beneath the veneer, there are hidden depths in Tim Delap’s portrayal form the beginning. The relationship with beloved, scene grabbing Pilot (Paul Mundell) is one of unconditional love, and the softer admonishment of his beloved pet is soon transferred to Jane.
Aideen Malone’s striking lighting design is a real highlight – real attention to the texture and effect of shadows when creating the design means that the lighting truly adds to the piece as a whole. A trick missed in not using this skilled lighting designer in place of the slightly ineffective larger flames at the rear of the set – no doubt Malone would have created a far more terrifying spectacle given the opportunity here.
This piece is surprisingly engaging throughout its entire length – in excess of three hours. Sally Cookson has masterfully created a world in which to immerse oneself, rather than a two-dimensional representation of events. A beautiful experience.
Runs until April 15, 2017 | Image: Manuel Harlen