Lyric Theatre, The Lowry, Manchester – April 12th 2017. Reviewed by Julie Noller
I was very excited about The National Theatres touring production of Jane Eyre, Directed by Sally Cookson. This was nothing to do with the red carpet and as always friendly welcome I’ve come to expect at The Lowry in Manchester. More to do with my younger years and Jane Eyre being one of my favourite novels. Albeit a classic and their tendency to confuse a younger reader, Jane Eyre expertly written by Charlotte Bronte always called to my imagination from young child struggling with grief and lost in a world she did not understand to young love and determination. If you want girl power look no further than Jane.
Settling into our seats I, as usual with the Lowry, took in the stage set up, modern theatre is so much more inviting than that of old, there are no curtains or hidden crevices. It looked like a church set up or maybe a school, perhaps an old country house. For you see what The National Theatre has done is clever, they have kept it simple using basic structures with ladders and your imagination to fill in the blanks. The only changes to set throughout are the addition of lights, props and from the ceiling little touches such as pictures, window frames or small children’s dresses to define the changing settings and periods in Jane’s life.
With theatre in my opinion what you see is what you get, rawness that’s practised without the CGI polished screens of the movies. However to suggest Jane Eyre was anything but polished would be wrong.
Maybe I am a little biased as from the start I was hooked, pulled onto the stage to watch characters I knew so well or felt I did. For just over 3 hours I sat transfixed at times forgetting I was sat in a theatre with others but that I was the only one watching a personal performance. I loved the fact the costume changes happened in front of our eyes, characters developed and grew in the same way they do whilst reading. Jane Eyre is brilliantly portrayed by Nadia Clifford whose physique so resembled my image of Jane, small and slight yet with a power that drew you in. I was struck by how Jane was Jane, childlike yet so grown up at the same time.
I could see there was a set up on stage for a small band however I wasn’t expecting music from Alex Heane as the musician along with Matthew Churcher and David Ridley but the folkstyle music fitted perfectly, add in the haunting voice of Melanie Marshall who plays Bertha Mason and well, what a fantastic voice. At times the music reminded me of Dr Who, I know that statement does not do this modern twist justice but I’ve listened to Dr Who at The Proms and believe me I got the same shivers and goosebumps. I’m still humming to myself this morning, wondering if there’s a CD?
Credit to Lynda Rooke for her talented portrayal of mean and nasty Mrs Reed, hating Jane believing her to have destroyed her family. Yet as Mrs Fairfax we see the polar opposite, amazing. She is warm, inviting and intuitive. Then there was Paul Mundell who was saintly Mr Brockhurst, a worried Mason (some would say fool) yet an impressive Pilot (Rochesters loyal dog). Tim Delap was a mean and moody Rochester as we had expected but somehow I wasn’t quite expecting him to be quite so surly. The kiss between Jane and Rochester I am sure had some audience members blushing and some (me included) beaming with delight. I am sure I heard a few sighs. All in all an extremely talented cast who show great understanding of each others characters and as such I must mention Hannah Bristow who was wildchild Adele, poor Helen Burns and not forgetting Grace Poole whom Jane misguidedly believes to be behind the misterious acts of attempted murder and then Evelyn
Miller as trustworthy friendly Bessie, bolchy Blanche Ingram and ultimately St. John wanting Jane to marry him and lead the same life as her parents had.
I can not end his review without mention of the energy that resonates across the theatre, from the constant climbing, swinging even running at times. To the clever use of those ladders to portray Rochester’s horse riding. I thought the use of all the actors as a collective conscience for Jane was superb and helped us to understand her reasoning without the need of a narrative. My favourite was the coach scenes which reminded me a Zumba class, full of so much fun that I wanted to climb on stage and join in. My surprise came in the humour throughout and that’s the joy of theatre, challenging me to see the very things I had never considered. If you enjoy the classics you will love this retelling with a modern twist.