Writer: Charlotte Bronte
Director: Sally Cookson
Reviewer: Hannah Stamp
This stage production of Charlotte Bronte’s beloved novel Jane Eyre encompasses all the visual passion the classic piece of literature cries out for. Set free from the constraints of ink on a page, it is as heartfelt and steady as the spirit of Jane herself.
Nadia Clifford guides us through the protagonist’s neglected childhood and towards her boarding school years of tender loss and friendship, exhibiting just the right amount of stubbornness and rebellion to ensure she glows with all the qualities of a true heroine. Her emotional speeches are acted with more feeling than a physical outburst of violence. Her arrival at Thornfield to meet the peculiar and charismatic Mr .Edward Rochester allows her to demonstrate her skill in acting the part of Jane through an angry childhood to the more restrained and mature stages of adulthood.
It’s a complex story and a lengthy one, and that is perhaps why issues of pacing occurs at times. The first half is rather drawn out and less focus on Jane’s childhood, however bleakly sympathetic it might be, could hasten her arrival to Thornfield and to the soul of the story. It feels like sweet relief when Rochester, played with eccentricity and flair by Tim Delap, finally rides in on a horse. Jane doesn’t need a knight in shining armour, but the audience certainly needs a change of pace at this point. Delap certainly delivers this, with deadpan lines and an unusual mix of comedy and irritation.
The second half fares better, although is perhaps lacking a few finer story threads that ardent fans of the novel will be dutifully waiting for – Jane’s surprise inheritance and St John’s lost love, to name a few. This leaves for a rushed and slightly sparse final few scenes that might leave newcomers to the famous tale a little lost in the abstraction. Having said that, the ending is cleverly linked to the beginning, creating a sense of life coming full circle and the future being one of hope.
The story is offset by beautiful lighting by Aideen Malone that flickers in scattered lanterns one moment and sets the stage ablaze with fire the next. It manages to change the tone from ease to horror in seconds, particularly in the case of Jane’s childhood horror, the Red Room. It is used to convey the mystery of the rolling moors and the moments of happiness in Jane’s life with simple alterations between light and dark. The set design by Michael Vale is contemporary and fresh, an unusually welcome approach to an old story. The lack of change in it does sometimes leave the eye wondering, but it arguably represents Jane herself: plain and without fuss, someone who notes more than once that ‘beauty is of little consequence’. This minimalist approach also allows a small cast to display their talents of switching between roles and even objects and animals with skill, a feat not easily accomplished.
The music is another breath of fresh air, atmospheric and pared down. Dami Olukoya’s voice leaves a haunting echo long after she stops singing. It’s only a shame that contemporary songs sometimes interrupt the seamless and folky feel of the original music that dominates most of the play. This is when both are at their best, and capturing the mood of Bronte’s original novel.
This adaptation certainly has much to recommend and is bursting with passion from a talented cast of fiery individuals. The unique and simplistic staging hits a few bumps in the road but is also what recommends the play most. Above all else, it breathes life into the beautiful conversations between Jane and Rochester that fill Bronte’s pages with intelligent romance. It creates a play that begs the audience to listen as much as they might usually just watch.
Runs until 6 May 2017 | Image: Contributed