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Tuesday 25 July 2017

Review: Jane Eyre @ Theatre Royal Brighton

This quite extraordinary production of Charlotte Brontës classic not only pulls new threads from the well-known and loved story, but also brings a fierce physicality to the stage.

Nadia Clifford as Jane Eyre

Originally devised by the company at Bristol Old Vic (in two parts) and transferring to the National Theatre before touring, the sense of teamwork here is both palpable and thrilling. 

Characters multi-role, restlessly and continually passing in and around the set without any hint of confusion - the intent and story is always clear and driving forward.

The set itself defines and contains the piece - a playground of bare wood, metal ladders, a huge platform, plain backdrops and a wooden floor glowing under superb lighting. 

Once the incredibly talented (and energetic!) cast hit the stage, the riot of movement hardly stops as Jane's story unfolds. 

Jane (played by Nadia Clifford, and wonderful in the role) is seen here as an exultant feminist - joyfully and stubbornly kicking out at everything around her as she"s shunted from pillar to post. 

"It's a girl" are the first and last words of the production, bookending the production with text as statement. 

The length of the adaptation (around three hours including interval) allows us the luxury of looking at Jane's story, and focussing much less on the well-known "madwoman in the attic" trope and more on her childhood and journey as she grows to adulthood.

Lighting and set are instrumental in bringing the fever dream of the novel's key moments to life - the young Jane locked in the "red room" is evoked by floods of scarlet light, real flames bursting up as Rochester's house burns, window frames (wielded by the ensemble) shutting Jane in, and in moments of pure theatrical joy, releasing her.

Music and sound design are central to the production, with the small band playing onstage for much of the action, adding barrages of percussion, twisty accordion, piano and strings. Sound effects from the subtle (rain, birdsong) to the apocalyptic are gorgeous throughout. 

Melanie Marshall plays Bertha Mason, Rochester's "mad" wife - and she is given her voice throughout the action, patrolling and watching the action, her velvety mezzo singing punctuating the story with sometimes provocatively anachronistic songs ("Mad About The Boy" worked for me; "Crazy" not so much).

Rochester (Tim Delap), dishevelled, distracted, and commanding is magnificent; Hannah Bristow alarming and endearing in equal measure as Rochester's ward, and a special mention must go to Paul Mundell's turn as Rochester's dog Pilot - funny, but also poignant, as we see him give his unconditional love to Jane which his master at first cannot.

This epic sprawl through Jane Eyre's psyche is a fearless, unmissable tornado of a show which leaves some indelible images on viewers - director Sally Cookson has, along with the cast, created something special here - and Nadia Clifford is a real name to watch in the future.

Jane Eyre at Theatre Royal Brighton until Saturday 29th July 2017. CLICK HERE for info.

by: Gary Cook


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