Norwich Theatre Royal, 22nd July 2017
dir. Sally Cookson
Devised by the company
Having played with the original cast at the National Theatre, the production has gone on tour before returning to the National Theatre in the autumn, and the production is an absolute treat for any theatre-goer regardless of their knowledge of, or passion for, the story of Jane Eyre.
The plot skims what is, in reality, a dense text; highlighting the key moments in the life of Jane Eyre. It's almost like the SparkNotes version: briefer, more concentrated, but no less powerful as a result. The performance truly packs a punch, leaving the audience on the edge of their seats for the entire three hours.
This is an exhilarating and hugely engaging performance, unflaggingly performed by a hugely talented cast. Throughout, Jane herself seethes, furious at the hand dealt to her by life and by society. She becomes a three dimensional, modern woman: she is a fierce feminist icon and feels more relevant today than ever thanks to a skilful and heartbreaking performance from Nadia Clifford who excels in the title role. Clifford's Jane Eyre is at once feisty and suffocated, and she holds the audience rapt for the entire production.
She plays excellently opposite Tim Delap as Rochester who brings, at times, a more gentle and fractured character to the stage than one perhaps seen in other productions and adaptations of the novel. He plays both brusque countryman and shattered husband with great charm and talent; the perfect foil to Clifford's Jane.
The ensemble is brilliant, playing between them a huge range of characters (a particular highlight being Paul Mundell's turn as Pilot).
The whole production is fantastically accompanied by three musicians who are at the heart of the performance - quite literally, given their position in the centre of the stage. They are an intrinsic part in bringing the production to life and the music is skilfully designed around the moments of tension, heartbreak and anger in the production. They ably accompany Melanie Marshall who sings throughout. The only point at which this doesn't quite work is perhaps in the slowed down, swung version of 'Crazy' by Gnarls Barkley which underscores the final act, but this is a minor point to make in relation to the incredible music used elsewhere.
The staging is sparse but impressively used: the ladders and planks become every key location in Jane's life and the physicality of the piece lends itself astonishingly well to this arrangement. It scaffolds the action, bringing to life a variety of settings. Additionally, it brings a contemporaneity to the piece; an immediacy to the action, and it works incredibly well.
The production's tour continues nationwide until September, returning to the National Theatre for a limited run from 26th September until the 21st October. Tickets are available here.