I am fascinated by productions that can say so much by doing so little. The talent, the mind power, that goes into creating something so effortlessly poignant without the aid of gimmicks. It’s a rare and brilliant feat and one that consistently takes hold of my attention long after the curtain has fallen.
National Theatre’s adaptation of Jane Eyre at The Mayflower Theatre was a glowing example of that. Set on a sparse stage with a series of wooden platforms and ladders with floating white drapery as a backdrop, Michael Vale’s design was simple and adaptable. It threw all focus directly on the performance whilst still capturing a sense of childhood innocence and the passing of time as the cast darted, twisted and ran between pillars and ledges. It didn’t want for any more.
This simplicity wove its magic throughout the rest of the play. Performed by an ensemble of 10 (three of which were musicians), the cast seamlessly switched between characters with an ease that made each transition unnoticeable. It played homage to their skill: every single person on stage embodied their characters flawlessly. Costume changes were carried out softly (almost eerily) in plain light meaning that for every step of the way, we as the audience were a part of the story. This clever technique pulled you in and left you feeling like you were sat right there, embedded in the script, with them.
The story itself was a superb balance of contemporary interpretation and staying true to the classic. Under Sally Cookson’s direction, both Bronte lovers and newbies to the tale would connect with the production just the same. I found myself almost bursting with my inner geek during the classic monologues (“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” – goosebumps!) whilst totally enthralled by the modern twists. A stand out had to be the role of Bertha, played by the exquisite understudy Dami Olukoya. Dressed in a regal red gown (the only burst of colour in an otherwise subdued selection of costumes), she had an ongoing presence in the shadows of the set. Her haunting singing voice echoed around the theatre between key scenes, a chilling reminder of her constant hiding in the darkest corners of Thornfield. Dami’s rendition of “Crazy” in the closing scenes had the whole audience on the edge of their seats… you could have heard a pin drop.
(Melanie Marshall playing Bertha)
But Dami was by no means the only stand out performance. In fact, every single person on that stage was a stand out. From the oddly endearing and mysterious Tim Delap playing Rochester to understudy Francesca Tomlinson taking on the roles of Adele and Helen Burns (amongst others) with poise and sophistication, everyone turned the script into something alive and truly intoxicating.
Of course, Nadia Clifford was a complete dream as Jane. Her transformation from a confused, lost and yet head strong little girl to a brilliant and spirited woman taking the reins on her life had me thinking “dear lord I want to be like her!” She embodied a powerful, feminist lead and commanded the stage. A fierce talent and one to watch.
Music, humour and intelligent prop use were interspersed throughout, further strengthening the unique appeal of this gorgeous production. I was captivated, from start to finish.
You can’t really go wrong with National Theatre. Their quirky and charming approach to performance art never fails to bring something fresh to the table. Followers of literature and the theatre alike will fall in love with this extraordinary tale, told in a timeless and unique way.
Jane Eyre is showing at The Mayflower Theatre until Saturday 13 May. You can grab your tickets here.
Photos by Brinkhoff Mögenburg