Play: Jane Eyre (based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë)
Director: Sally Cookson
Form: Drama/Literary Adaptation
Performance Date: 7 Jun. 2017
Venue: Theatre Royal Glasgow
Summary: A young orphan, Jane Eyre, is raised by her reluctant aunt, Mrs Reed, and attempts to find her place in the world in nineteenth century Northern England.
What I enjoyed about this production was its fluidity, each scene was connected through either movement or music. The fluidity of the scenes made Jane’s development much clearer. In addition to this, right from the beginning, the cast was incredibly supportive of each other onstage; an incredible amount of energy was present throughout the two acts, you could feel it in the audience.
An actor that stood out to me, in particular, was Melanie Marshall, whose haunting vocals intensified Jane’s key moments of developments. I will not mention Melanie Marshall’s specific role in the play as it will spoil the plot of Jane Eyre, so if you plan on reading Jane Eyre ever, do not look up what Melanie Marshall’s role is! Moreover, I found Cookson’s focus on Marshall’s role rather refreshing as I had not seen her role as important before. On a side note, I only read Jane Eyre at the beginning of 2017, and seeing the production made Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece even better!
I do believe it was rather ambitious of Cookson to take on Brontë’s famous novel, and I think the production underwhelmed in areas.
I was disappointed in Hannah Bristow’s stale portrayal of Helen Burns. Bristow’s characterisation was not what I was expecting; she didn’t seem connected to what she was saying and she later portrayed Grace Poole and Diana Rivers in a similar manner. There was not a clear distinction between these characters. Nonetheless, I did enjoy Bristow’s portrayal of young Adele, who was bursting with energy! Nadia Clifford, who played Jane Eyre, struggled to project her voice during Jane’s older scenes with Rochester, but then at other times, Clifford, increased her volume at random intervals. In a similar way, when Evelyn Miller portrayed St John, she also struggled with her volume, however, I enjoyed Miller as Bessie, whose warmth radiated the stage and changed Jane’s posture.
The stage was set from the beginning; a series of connecting wooden platforms with ladders and stairs with a wooden runaway, with the musicians tucked between the platform and runaway. From walking into the auditorium, I knew the play was not going to be an elaborate production of Brontë‘s novel; the play would be focused on Jane’s movement, not the change of environment.
Despite this interesting choice by Cookson and cast, the use of the set and the movements of the actors became repetitive. The majority of the actors constantly climbed up and down the platforms which slowed the scenes down considerably.
Why did I see it?
Jane Eyre is one of my favourite novels of all time. I had to see it onstage. It was also my first National Theatre production!
Has the theatre company produced other plays?
National Theatre is currently staging a production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Common, a new play by DC Moore, and Salome, another new play by Yaël Farber. Bristol Old Vic is currently home to Tristan and Yseult, a Kneehigh theatre production.
Cookson’s Jane Eyre was innovative but it lacked Bronte’s intricate characterisation. I think the production had some interesting imagery and staging but since it was so character-driven, the performance appeared to lack depth.
– Melissa Jennings