The classic tale of Jane Eyre


Having studied Jane Eyre my GCE O level English Literature, I  then  changed schools and examination boards, I found myself doing it for my A level. I loved the novel in fact I couldn’t get enough of it and often years later, especially on long haul flights I’d find myself dipping into the novel again.

I loved the romance of it all especially the dashing Rochester. I found myself even able to recite the opening lines of the book and when I worked in radio in Australia I was over the moon when I got to produce and edit the book reading serialisation of  Jane Eyre.

So, you can imagine it was with great trepidation that I took my seat in The Grand Theatre for the National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic’s  stage interpretation of the novel.

To turn a book into a piece of theatre can be difficult especially when that novel is so well known as this throughout the world but on this occasion Sally Cookson has achieved the impossible and averted what could have been a possible disaster.

Like the Bronte family this is a story of true Yorkshire grit and values. Michael Vale’s set is a masterpiece of ingenuity. It’s minimalistic made of rough timber with wooden flooring, walkways and ladders. It’s harsh and stark but that is the essence of this tale.

The production is three hours long but it moves so fast with actors doubling, trebling and the whole cast mounting ladders so expertly. There’s musicians on stage who blend in superbly with the action and effects that seamlessly fit into the story. But this production’s biggest asset is the energy and pace that Cookson has achieved that moves the story along.

Nadia Clifford’s Jane is feisty yet has a wonderful air of innocence about her. Never off stage for three hours, even doing her costume changes assisted by the cast on the set, Clifford is pure gold – although her grasp of the Yorkshire accent is not what it should be – Northern yes but from the other side of the Pennines.

Hannah Bristow takes five roles and changes her accents as easily and perfectly as she does her costume and character. As Helen she’s a forgiving North East girl whilst as Adele, she becomes the child ward of Rochester with a childish French accent, moods and movement that is so believable.

As Mrs Reed and Mrs Fairfax, Lynda Rooke proves what an excellent character actor she is  swinging from goodie to baddie effortlessly. As Aunt Reed she’s brazen, cold and bordering on cruel whilst her characterization of Mrs Fairfax is humble, kindly and caring all achieved in as long as it takes to change her cap and apron.

Paul Mundell certainly has a range of roles as the Puritanical Mr Brocklehurst, head of Lowood Institution he really is hateful then as Pilot the Dog you love him as he achieves a beautiful piece of physical theatre right down to the last roll-over.

Tim Delap’s Rochester, had its own kind of charm but lacked that burning passion that one has come to expect from the pages of the novel. In  other parts his character could have been a tad more surly, sardonic and ill-tempered in his moods to suit a man who has been dealt the rough hand of fate.

Surprise of the evening was Melanie Marshall who portrayed Bertha Mason – Rochester’s deranged first wife. Her characterization was such that you almost felt sorry for her and the unusual touch of adding vocals for her made for a mind-blowing performance.

Jane Eyre is an experience that everyone, whether familiar with the novel, numerous T.V. serialisation or films should make the effort to go along and see – you will be glad you did.

It runs at Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday 5 August.

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