Bristol Old Vic’s production of Jane Eyre started its tour two years after its transfer to the National Theatre in London in 2015. The company devised the piece based on the themes and characters they thought were important to include from the book. Although the book is so well known and has taken on almost legendary status, the play gives the story a modern twist through set and choreography.
The set is very minimal, consisting only of a wooden structure and ladders, with additional pieces of set and props such as chairs only being brought on when needed. For a tale as well-known as Jane Eyre, there wasn’t the need for anymore. An onstage band provided music and sound effects during the play – the music was totally one of my favourite parts of the whole production. It was evocative and cinematic as a mixture of period pieces and contemporary songs. All the choreography was slick, especially for the carriage sequences, and gave the production bursts of ferocity – much like Jane herself.
Nadia Clifford’s Jane Eyre is both strong and vulnerable. She is so certain of herself that it’s hard not to be bowled over by her force of character. However, she still has those human moments of doubt which are so perfectly shown through the ensemble becoming the voices in her head. Clifford is Jane from childhood to adult and never falters in her passion and strength as she remains on stage for the entirety of the three hour play. Jane’s coming of age is violent, isolated and constricting, all of which she fights against in order to become the person she knows she is. As a school teacher, she is compassionate – a direct contrast to the way she and her schoolmates were treated – and as a governess, she is stern but fair and softens to her young charge, Adele’s, enthusiastic energy.
Within this production, the focus is not put on Jane and Rochester’s relationship, but on their human emotions. The struggle for them to be together and to admit their feelings for one another is far too relevant for a modern audience. Tim Delap’s Rochester is angry, brooding and is an imposing figure, yet he never overwhelms or overpowers Clifford’s Jane. They are perfect sparring partners – finding common ground with their wit and their words.
But let’s talk about Bertha – Rochester’s first wife. Melanie Marshall is compelling to watch and stays on stage for almost the entire play. She is a figure in Jane’s life from childhood, always watching over her and she remains a shadowy figure in the background even after Jane and Rochester get their happy ending. Forever seen as the ‘mad woman in the attic’, Marshall’s Bertha shows no sign of insanity; she knows exactly what she is doing and that makes her dangerous, not mad. Whilst all the other characters wear dark blues, Marshall is resplendent in a bright red dress. She is the fire that consumes the house. And what a singing voice! Although Bertha has no lines within the play, Marshall sings a mixture of folk and contemporary pop songs with the onstage band as she reinforces herself throughout Jane’s life.
Jane Eyre was a really good production and I’m so glad I managed to catch this production live and for £5 too!