19th Nov, 2017

'Unmissable' stage version of Bronte's Jane Eyre in Brum is a triumph

Bromsgrove Editorial 6th Sep, 2017

WHEN the legend states ‘Devised by the original company’ on the front page of the programme it can raise a big question mark.

Is this a worthy improvisation piece that should be confined to a drama school stage or will we witness something magical stirred up in a rehearsal room cauldron? In the case of the Sally Cookson/National Theatre/Bristol Vic – Jane Eyre it quite simply heralds a night where it is a privilege to be present in the audience.

There was not a dull moment or dud performance and so many physical tableaux, which convey the plot by living pictures it feels like you are actually inside some sort of kaleidoscopic dreamscape rather than a theatre such is the power of this production.

The setting is a simple, a white curtain box surrounding a group of multi-leveled wooden platforms – these are reached by a variety of ladders. Take a cast of ten talented actors and the technical excellence of a world class lighting and sound design team, inventive direction and this simple setting becomes a moving montage of great houses and open countryside through which stagecoaches thunder and move our players to the next part of the action.

Jane Eyre (played with passion and strength by Nadia Clifford) is portrayed as an early feminist with a clear sense of purpose when facing injustice. This is more a story of how Jane came to be what she is rather than how she comes to fall in love with Mr Rochester. Indeed we are an hour into Act One before our heartthrob makes his debut (a powerful performance by Tim Delap) he literally falls at Jane’s feet when tumbling from his speeding carriage. Prior to this we have witnessed Jane’s formative years at Gateshead Hall where she was emotionally and physically abused by her aunt and cousins – onto Lowood School where she is bullied and beaten by staff yet becomes an inspiration to her fellow students. The weight upon her young shoulders is heavy and there are times when she struggles with dilemmas. Here, other members of the cast become her thoughts and battle against each other for dominance – she always seems to ignore the loudest voices and makes the right, if the most painful, choice.

There is music throughout that is a cacophony of choice from Opera to Country and Western via Jazz performed on stage by a multi instrument playing trio and a versatile singer (Melanie Marshall). All of the musicians are also actors or is the other way round? Either way it works and adds another intriguing dimension.

An old theatrical actor’s warning that it is dangerous to share the stage with children and animals – well Paul Mundell’s portrayal of Rochester’s Great Dane, Pilot, is a tour de force; bringing sighs of pleasure from the audience each time he is on stage.

Charlotte Bronte would have approved of this production of that there is no doubt.

Catch it whilst you can. Unmissable!

Jane Eyre runs at the Birmingham REP until September 16. Visit www.birmingham-rep.co.uk for more.

Review by Euan Rose

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