Theatre Royal Brighton,
Currently showing at Brighton’s Theatre Royal, this powerful and stark reworking of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, a joint touring production from the National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic, justifiably received a standing ovation at the end of its intense three and a quarter hour performance.
Nadia Clifford is the eponymous orphan and heroine – from birth, through her childhood and on to adulthood. Her aunt Mrs Reed, played with bitter venom by Lynda Rooke, succumbs to her brothers dying wish and promises to take Jane in and raise her as her own. But she fails to show Jane any love or kindness as a child, constantly trying to crush whatever spirit the young Jane displays. Eventually Jane is sent to Lowood, a school for orphaned girls, where she continues to suffer both physical and emotional hardship. The bombastic school head Mr Brocklehurst is played with powerful cruelty by Paul Mundell , who fired with religious zeal also tries to break Jane’s spirit. Despite all this, she eventually becomes a teacher at Lowood. However, after in moment of self-realisation and awareness, she advertises herself as a governess and is engaged at Thornfield Hall to educate Adele, the French ward of Edward Rochester (a powerful and tortured performance by Tim Delap),
Their relationship builds slowly through their sporadic but challenging conversations, with Jane gradually gaining the confidence to speak her mind. She is encouraged by Rochester, who finds himself drawn to Jane, (despite her being ‘poor, small and plain). But he has a secret and an ominous presence in the house threatens both mentally and physically. Will their love overcome the obstacles of class and money?
The company of ten actors, regardless of their age or gender and except for Nadia Clifford (Jane), take on a variety of roles, including Pilot – Rochester’s dog and the voices of Jane’s conscience. Melanie Marshall also makes a striking presence as Bertha Mason, the ‘mad woman in the attic,’ through musical interludes. Her vocal performances are extraordinary and haunting.
The play is directed by Sally Cookson and whilst many of us will remember Brontë’s novel with fondness, one of the successes of this theatrical adaptation is we are allowed to evoke the world of Jane Eyre in our own imagination. There are no huge sets or magnificent props depicting Gateshead Hall or Thornfield Hall, in fact these well-known locations appear in the form of a simple wood and metal climbing frame style structure of platforms and ladders.
This however, doesn’t detract from but enhances the stark and powerful performances which kept a packed house in their seats right through to the inevitable happy ending.
Reviewer Sandra Jenkins