NT's Strong Feminist Theme - Jane Eyre
Phil Hopkins, Theatre & Travel Correspondent
Be it the National Theatre's take on Jane Eyre or Northern Ballet's interpretation of Charlotte Bronte's novel of the same name, it is safe to say that the ubiquitous sisters of Haworth will forever intrigue.
Like a confused innocent abroad I had somehow convinced myself that last night's visit to Leeds Grand Theatre was to see the latter, however, I was more bemused than upset to learn that I was about to witness the Bristol Old Vic play, Jane Eyre, produced in collaboration with the National Theatre!
And what an intelligent, ambitious treat by director Sally Cookson, demanding of concentration for two hours 40 minutes of playing time, but well worth it.
I have a good feel for Charlotte and the Bronte sisters generally but cannot claim to be anything of an authority, although it does not take long for the brain to do its work and deliver the necessary information, 'Oh, it's that one with Mr Rochester and the mad wife in the attic!"
Whenever a novel or play has been around for a century or two, especially if it is one deemed to be of literary interest, then people interpret it in a way that either you disagree with, did not expect or, quite simply, that the author may well not have intended! The desire for a fresh perspective springs eternal!
Sally Cookson's interpretation presents the main protagonist, governess Jayne, thrust into the crazy world of her wealthy employer, Mr Rochester, as a strong, young woman keen to stand up and be counted in a man's world.
"This is a clarion cry for equal opportunities for women, not a story about a passive female who will do anything for her hunky boss," she says. Nadia Clifford as Jane Eyre was excellent but would she have been quite as strong as Cookson would have us believe? Possibly not, however, still a beautifully balanced performance.
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"Rather than approach the novel as a piece of costume drama, I was keen to explore the themes and get to the heart of the story and characters in a theatrical way. I didn't want authentic set and period costume to suffocate it, killing the essence and magic of the story," says Cookson.
Consequently, the production was simple, relying on many stage techniques to awaken audience imagination, very much like The Woman in Black. Last night it was cast members holding lights aloft to create the eeriness of Thornfield Hall, the mansion where Jane worked as governess, witnessing the cries of Mr Rochester's mad wife, kept secretly in a room on the top floor.
Then there was the beautiful sense of time lapse as players ran on the spot, Mr Rochester's horse, pure imagination, and Paul Mundell as Pilot, Rochester's dog.
Tim Delap's Rochester was suitably Byronic, dominating and arrogant but a character that mellowed as he began to see in Jane something that appealed to his inner sensitivities.
There were some wonderful performances by a cast of little more than 10 actors and a great supporting musical score that added atmosphere and substance to a worthy production.
Jane Eyre - National Theatre
Leeds Grand Theatre
Until Saturday 5th August 2017
NT's Strong Feminist Theme - Jane Eyre, 1st August 2017, 9:33 AM