31 Days of Hallowe’en 2017, Day 4: Jane Eyre [The National Theatre]

jane eyre national theatre 2017

source: nationaltheatre.org.uk

This may be a bit of a cheat, but Jane Eyre‘s source material famously has both subtle and overt gothic and horror elements, so I think it counts.

Having never been to the Royal National Theatre (on Southbank, a mini city in its own right and which is fast-becoming one of my favourite places in the Big Smoke), I was unprepared for how clean, comfortable, expansive and organised it ended up being.

The company’s production is its second after a world tour. Director Sally Cookson makes inventive use of the set’s minimalist, multi-level Escher contraption of platforms and ladders, flanked by huge billowing curtains bathed in scene-appropriate light. The book’s famous Red Room scene, in which young Jane is imprisoned by her douchebag Aunt Reed after a fight with her cousin, feels immersively claustrophobic.

Almost all of the book is faithfully followed, so fans of the book will delight in seeing key moments given their due attention, such as Jane’s tragic but moral compass-shaping childhood friendship with her Lowood School BFF Helen Burns. The twist on this production is its overlaid soundtrack of a live jazz trio – cello and piano in one moment, then thundering, steampunk cowbell cacophony for the backdrop of one of Jane’s many long coach journeys. Much of it is held together by the haunting vocals of Melanie Marshall, seemingly detached from the proceedings in earlier scenes but who is later revealed to be Rochester’s mad wife, Bertha Mason, herself – who is literally given a voice beyond attic madwoman. Indeed, two days later and I still have most of the original interludes in my head, more so than the anachronistic-but-welcome rendition of Mad About the Boy, and even more so than the slightly cringe reworking of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy.

Casting is a mixed bag. While Nadia Clifford captures Jane’s headstrong spirit and Tim Delap the original Tsundere of crotchety Rochester, they have absolutely no chemistry on stage. It’s impossible to buy them as the all-consuming, supernatural love that literally calls Jane all the way home. Curiouser still is the play’s bare-bones insistence to cast grown adults as children – coquettish Adele, Rochester’s adorable little French ward, comes off as a mentally-disabled lisp factory when portrayed by an incredibly tall actress botching a French accent. That said, the casting of Paul Mundell (who does the play’s second-finest work as the evil schoolmaster Mr Brockelhurst), is the star of the show as Pilot, Rochester’s dog. Barking, panting and showing affection to the cast members with alarmingly accurate mimicry, he thwaps a leather rod against his thigh to denote a wagging tail in the production’s most satisfying running gag.

From a technical standpoint, sound could be improved – it’s hard to hear Jane’s lines over the aural maelstrom of special effects and blasting music. Perhaps all the better to capture the  passion and madness of Bronte’s novel – with actual fire an unofficial cast member of its own.



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