26 September – 21 October 2017
Based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë
Devised by the original company
Directed by Sally Cookson
A return visit from a triumphant tour, The National’s Jane Eyre is an ensemble retelling of the Charlotte Brontë masterpiece of an orphan’s tribulation’s in an unjust world, her growth into a governess, and her love for her passionate and peculiar master.
It’s an incredibly ambitious production that unfortunately suffers from the fate of many book adaptions in its attempt to abridge 500 or so pages of original story. The thirty-or-so years that pass in the book aren’t easily squeezed into a performance-length space, even one which lasts three-hours.
Sally Cookson’s solution to the problem is to construct transitional scenes where design, choreography, and music all shine beautifully. However, especially in the first half, the play feels like montage, too brief scenes flying past like turning pages. Jane Eyre’s first-half love arc must develop in full, from meeting to heartbreak, in only three or four brief encounters. We don’t delve too deeply into any of the relationships, and so the tragic events of the play often fail to earn their pathos.
It gives a slightly hollow feeling in a play that is otherwise spectacular.
Cookson’s vision is remarkable, And the design is National Theatre standard gorgeous. The cast is superb, with Nadia Clifford and Tim Delap as strong leads to be watched, surrounded by a tight and talented ensemble playing multiple roles to great effect.
Particular standouts included Hannah Bristow, whose stoic martyrdom as Helen and utter charm as Adèle are a marvel to watch, and Paul Mundell, whose constant and memorable character work, and superb comic relief, that provide much needed levity throughout the play.
The music is a highlight of the show, providing a rich and epic landscape of sound that suffuses the production. The band blends into the play seamlessly, and Melanie Marshall’s singing brings an emotional narration to the piece which is like bathing in aural honey.
Having said that, the performing of a Gnarles Barkley cover during an emotional climax was a little bizarre.
All in all, a wonderful evening of theatre, but not an emotional one.
And a big shout-out to the SMs, you’re amazing! #stagemanagementday