Regional Theatre Review: The National Theatre’s Jane Eyre

Date Posted: 18/04/2017

Jane Eyre cast

Sarah Holt reviews the National Theatre’s adaptation of Jane Eyre as is embarks on its UK tour.

At the start of April, the UK tour of The National Theatre’s Jane Eyre kicked off at Manchester`s Lowry Theatre. Regional theatre goers have been chomping at the bit for this production to start doing the rounds. The London version of the show received critical acclaim and five-star reviews.

Devised and directed by Sally Cookson, the National Theatre production is described as a re-imagining of Bronte’s classic story.

Cookson has explained her interpretation as a life story rather than a love story.

But what does that really mean?

Well, traditionalists will be relieved to know that the plot hasn`t been tampered with. The story still follows Jane from her time as an orphan, when she was reluctantly taken in by her aunt, through her cruel schooling, to her placement as a governess for Mr Rochester at Thornfield Hall.

What has changed is the costume drama approach to the production. 

Cookson and the National Theatre have almost altogether culled the set. All the action takes place on a multi-story wooden frame that looks like something you might find in a children’s play area.

jane Eyre cast members

Pictured: Jane Eyre ensemble members. (Photo credit: Brinkhoff Mogenburg).

Costume is still period in nature, but it’s not used in the traditional way. For a start, it’s not used for personal characterisation. Instead, it’s used to set objective scenes. Costume changes, carried out live on stage, mark the progression of time and place for everyone on stage.

For example, the entire chorus – both men and women – put school uniforms on over their existing clothes to signal the scenes in the show when Jane starts school.

In terms of the cast, everyone apart from Jane – played by Nadia Clifford – plays multiple characters. One of the cast swaps between miserly Mr Brocklehurst, suspicious Mason, and the dog Pilot. Yes that’s right. I wrote dog. He barks and has a tail that wags.

Another element that’s added to the production is music. This isn’t a musical. But songs – both folk and modern – and a cappella voices, are used as devices to reflect Jane’s internal thoughts. An example is Mad About The Boy, which is sung to reflect that moment that Jane realises she has feelings for Mr Rochester.  

Tim Delap and Nadia Clifford

Pictured: Tim Depal and Nadia Clifford as Mr Rochester and Jane Eyre. (Photo credit: Brinkhoff Mogenburg).

It’s needless to say that the contemporary theatrical devices in this production are clever. Personally, I found some of them a little distracting in the first half. I felt they prevented me from empathising with any character for too long.

However, in the second half, the performances by Mr Rochester (Tim Depal) and Nadia Clifford were so engaging that even a rocket launching at the back of the theatre couldn’t have distracted the audience’s attention from it.

If Jane Eyre was a real person, what would she have thought of this production? If the character that Sally Cookson has created is any reflection, the independent, free-thinking Jane would have loved it.

If you’re a Bronte traditionalist, you might take a different view.

Jane Eyre is touring the UK until 23rd September. For details visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/jane-eyre-on-tour.

(Lead image photo credit: Brinkhoff Mogenburg).

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