This three hour long adaptation of the beloved novel can lack in energy in places but it is still beautifully staged.
From the moment the audience steps into the auditorium, there is a sense of the stripped back nature of the production offers something slightly different than an ordinary period drama set on stage – which is both a pro and a con in terms of putting the story across effectively.
Sally Cookson’s epic production of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel presents a very modern and spirited Jane Eyre as a character that fits in with our times, but there is the occasional moment in which several scenes are elongated unnecessarily while almost rushing through some of the key moments of the book, such as Helen Burns’s death and the scenes between Jane and Rochester.
In the programme, Cookson notes that “how modern Jane seemed- her spirit and strong will, her peculiar and brilliant mind striving for personal freedom to be who she is.” This is something that comes across well in the production – the adaptation has changed the perspective from being simply a love story but more a coming of age story of a character who has had to fight for who she is since childhood.
Nadia Clifford’s youthful, passionate and spirited Jane Eyre is by equal turns sharp witted when handling Rochester but also uses her rebellious behaviour particularly towards Aunt Reed at the beginning to hide her vulnerability. It is a performance that requires a lot of stamina, considering the fact that she is in every essential scene that alone is to be applauded.
But Clifford is amply supported by those surrounding her. Evelyn Miler as the straightforward confidente Bessie and the snobbish Blanche Ingram is excellent support being confident and self-assured throughout. Meanwhile, Paul Mundell provides some comic relief as Pilot (the dog), with some great mannerisms but is still able to show a more chilling side as Mr Brocklehurst.
Tim Delap is suitably gruff and abrupt as Rochester, quick and sharp throughout and between him and Clifford make the relationship between Jane and Rochester believable.
The show has been excellently choreographed to ensure that the show moves with ease and style, yet at the same time this can slow down the pace and lose track of the story in a way that might confuse those who aren’t familiar with the story, particularly during the second act in which Jane goes to live with St John and Diana Rivers. But there are some lovely embellishments, particularly at the beginning that add context to Jane’s story and where she came from that show the attention to detail that is evident throughout.
While beautifully staged, Cookson’s production feels slightly lacking in sincerity and almost feels clinical in places that can leave the audience feeling cold. Is it possible to stage a beloved novel like this on stage? Yes it is as this production proves – but only as long as it doesn’t sacrifice the heart and soul of the story for creativity, which sometimes this version does.
But overall, it is a lovely and imaginative production of a classic story that offers a fresh perspective on the characters – it just lacks in energy and pace to give it bit more of a spark.