Haunting and Unique: National Theatre / Bristol Old Vic's JANE EYRE at the Aylesbury Waterside, UK Tour

I missed the Bristol Old Vic production of Jane Eyre when it was at the National Theatre last year - very unfortunately so - and I heard nothing but rave reviews of it. So I was delighted to see that not only was the magical show returning, but that it was also heading out on tour as well so everyone across the country could witness it. And may I say that it was everything that I expected and more.

For those who don't know (and I didn't really before seeing the play), the story of Jane Eyre follows the titular character from her birth to her adult life as you watch her blossom from a naughty young schoolgirl into a wise and confident young adult, always adept to learning life's new lessons and feeling positive about the new pathways that life takes her down. Along the way, she finds friendship, love and even reassurance in herself in this life-affirming and thought-provoking tale that has been modernised to feel much more Jane-centric than I know the original romantic tale to be.

This production of Jane Eyre is both haunting and unique, in a version that is long in running time, but is definitely given more than enough chance to breathe and relax; while the story isn't necessarily complex, the length of the play - at a little over three hours long - is long enough to let the emotional subtleties of the piece blossom and flourish in a beautiful, coming-of-age kind of way. At first, the piece definitely felt on the slower side, but the second act especially picked up pace and saw it go from good to great for sure. Bristol Old Vic have a gorgeous performance style that I have seen in other productions of theirs like Peter Pan which showed at the National last year and it works even better with this story, too. The physical theatre elements are beautiful and again keep this running theme of light breeze through the piece, which - without sounding punny - is very refreshing.

The original London company of Jane Eyre at the National Theatre, now touring the UK

The cast are absolutely sublime with not a loose link between all of them, with many of them having to constantly multi-role, sometimes switching gender, and Nadia Clifford who played Jane being on stage every moment from start to finish. Clifford gives a performance that initially changes drastically - perhaps too much so - and while she barely retains the characteristics of Jane's younger self, it becomes somewhat apparent that this is intentional later on in the play. Nonetheless, her performance as an adult Jane is sublime, giving her that kind of sweet but pursed lipped quality to her that you'd only ever found before on charming women like Mary Poppins. It was a performance that I enjoyed thoroughly and kudos to her for how much energy it must drain her of.

The rest of the cast worked much more as an ensemble unit, but there are a few standouts that I loved a lot. Tim Delap played a brilliant Rochester who eerily reminds me of George from Sunday In The Park with George by Sondheim... if you know, you know. He's a brilliant actor and takes on the role perfectly, playing it very sweet but sour like Clifford plays Jane, but almost at the alternate time to whatever Clifford is doing. It's fantastic, as is their chemistry together, and it makes for a great performance. Evelyn Miller was my other favourite cast member who alternates the roles of Bessie, Blanche Ingram and St John throughout the piece. All three roles are drastically different and Miller's characterisation of each one was not only spot on, but completely different each time as well; as Bessie she was lovable, as Blanche she was detestable; and as St John she was an unquestionably convincing man. If anything, she gives the best performance in the play, alongside Melanie Marshall's haunting and stunning vocal performance.

The original London company in a scene choreographed by Dan Canham

Yes, vocal performance: there is music in this piece for sure and it was chosen and composed / arranged by Benji Bower and then performed by a band on stage in the show. The music ranged drastically from pieces composed specifically for the show and then some arrangements of modern songs like Gnarles Barkley's Crazy, but all of them worked so well that they became integral to the piece; every person I spoke to after the show commented on that song's performance in particular and how they were moved by it so deeply. It's a fantastic addition to the show and recognised greatly indeed. Sally Cookson's direction is as incredible as ever with a production that flows and moves so seamlessly, it's truly faultless and was duly noted. Props also have to go to the show's movement director Dan Canham who choreographs the movement sequences, with my favourite being the repeating motif of whenever Jane is running to get somewhere. So much fun!

Despite this production not being particularly famous in the grand scheme of things, the one word I could think of when looking at the design elements for the show were "iconic", because they all really were. Michael Vale's set design is one of those simplistic spaces that is so incredibly well realised that I was as blown away by it as I would be if it were ten times more complicated. It's one of those standing set pieces that looks simple at first glance, but you soon realise how well intertwined it is with both Cookson's direction and Canham's movements and it's genius, a truly collaborative effort. Exactly the same should also be said for Katie Sykes' intelligent and ever-changing costumes, which impressed equally, alongside Aideen Malone's lighting design,

The epic set design of Jane Eyre by the brilliant Michael Vale

All in all, this National Theatre / Bristol Old Vic  co-production of Jane Eyre is one of the National's better book-to-stage adaptations of the past few years and for people who have never experienced a National show before, this is a brilliant way to start. No matter what I thought of the play, I am so glad and so proud that loads of people around the country will be able to see this production and understand how exciting, artistic and unique the theatre can be. It's a visionary production of epic proportions and one that I wouldn't even dare somebody to miss. it is just that clever.

Jane Eyre continues at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre until Saturday April 29th before continuing on its UK Tour. Tickets for Aylesbury available here and tickets for the rest of the tour available here. The show also returns to the Lyttelton at the National  in London for a month starting this September, with tickets on sale from next Thursday right here.

No comments