National Theatre: Jane Eyre | The Lowry | Manchester
Director Sally Cookson has stripped back the regal costumes and lavish surroundings of Charlotte Brontë’s 1837 classic. Instead, a rustic foundation resembling a climbing frame constructed of wood and metal is flooded with white, blue and red lighting to capture the atmosphere.
Jane Eyre is a tale of self-discovery, where the strong-willed orphan Jane is tossed from her unloving aunt, to the disapproving Lowood school, before becoming a governess to Mr. Rochester’s illegitimate daughter at Thornfield Hall.
Despite the large aesthetics, this laid-back, natural production seems better suited for a smaller venue like The Royal Exchange. The intimate, deliberately dismantled acts rely heavily on its cast to encompass scene changes, take on multiple roles and present live music along its actors. As a result, characters carry the burden of exposition alongside their lines.
The duelling roles become far more effective in the second half. When the entrapped wife Bertha, played by Melanie Marshall sashays around the stage, providing the melancholy music for an abused Jane, it supports her ghostly, rejected and hidden character. However, Marshall barely interacts with characters, skirting past Jane’s repressed desires and the supernatural elements of the story.
The versatile Nadia Clifford (Jane) is impressive as she carries Jane from childhood to adult. Her attitude amended by her environment and the growth in her character is emphasised by the slowly descending costumes that are placed on her by the surrounding cast. The falling costumes stress the continual roles Jane is forced to inhabit, alongside hanging windows/mirrors that reflect Jane’s life choices.
Unfortunately, by the second half, Jane has not had the opportunity to grow as an independent woman, still appearing inexperienced despite the plays swift resolution from her failed marriage, to the mysterious calls of Mr. Rochester in need.
The drawback of this moderate production is the loss of many of Bronte’s extraordinary elements. A key plot point of Jane’s financial independence, falls by the waist side to make room for live music which is used to carry scenes, however misplaced. When Melanie Marshall began to sing Gnarls Barkly’s Crazy it appeared to be an obvious choice but one far removed from the traditional sensibilities of the entire production.
The scales balance more towards beauty than daring in this tamed production of Jane Eyre. Its reworking is not a modernised scandal but rather the Spark Notes edition, choosing to lose its supernatural elements and passion for realism.