I’m always nervous about seeing adaptations of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre: it’s my favourite book and I always worry what the writers will make of it. However, I saw some excellent reviews of this Bristol Old Vic and National Theatre co-production by Sally Cookson, devised by the company, and I decided to risk it.
This is a true theatrical adaptation: faithful to the book, but using all the tricks of theatre to tell the story in a unique way. Actors play multiple characters (including Mr Rochester’s dog, Pilot); props are minimal but effective; and Melanie Marshall’s beautiful singing punctuates events at all the right moments. I particularly liked the carriage rides, complete with sound effects and assorted miscellaneous passengers.
Nadia Clifford plays Jane from birth to adulthood, crying out like a baby in the initial scene where she is born before her parents die and she is sent to live with her mother’s brother. Her uncle soon dies and she is left with her aunt and cousins, who treat her like a poor relation instead of one of their own. Sent to school, she eventually becomes a teacher until her ambition drives her to seek a governess post. She ends up at Thornfield Hall, where she meets Mr Rochester.
Clifford is wonderful in the part, convincing both as young, rebellious Jane and the older, more cautious woman. Tim Delap is superb as Rochester and the two have great chemistry. I particularly loved Hannah Bristow’s down to earth portrayal of Helen Burns, the only one I have seen which made her seem a flesh and blood girl instead of a pious bore.
There was only one choice I really questioned, which may mean nothing to those unfamiliar with Jane’s story. Why have her aunt mention her uncle in the West Indies, who writes looking for Jane, without then having Jane inherit his fortune? For me one of the key factors in Jane’s return to Rochester is her newly independent status.
Apart from this minor niggle, however, this is a wonderful adaptation. It’s three hours long but the time flew by. Recommended to fans of the book and also those new to Jane’s story.