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Jane Eyre

Published 18 September 2015

What’s it all about?

This one’s obvious, surely, it’s Charlotte Brontë’s classic story of a Victorian heroine.

Hmm… Victorian heroines on stage… Sound familiar? Sally Cookson, the director behind the National Theatre’s latest opening, is building a reputation for turning the stories of feisty females living in the 1800s into canny theatrical offerings, having previously brought her playful direction to the Olivier Award nominated Hetty Feather.

Here the tale of Brontë’s orphaned protagonist – from her miserable days at Gateshead and the terrible conditions of Lowood to her work as a governess at Thornfield and relationship with its owner Mr Rochester – is brought to life like you’ve never seen it before.

Who’s in it?

Cookson’s take on Jane Eyre previously played at the Bristol Old Vic and every single performer from the show’s original run has made the journey to London.

Madeleine Worrall is a captivating Jane, full of self-criticism, stubbornness and modesty, while Felix Hayes makes for a superb Rochester, unflattering yet romantic in his exchanges with Worrall’s plain-talking title character.

Laura Elphinstone, who has the tough job of portraying double the number of characters portrayed by most of the other cast members, is at her best in the role of Jane’s pupil Adele. Brimming with youthful cheekiness, Elphinstone’s Adele is an excitable and amusing livewire whose energy provides a stark contrast to some of the actress’ other parts, including Jane’s dear but doomed Lowood friend Helen and the novel’s ominous scapegoat Grace Poole.

In addition to other exceptional performances from Craig Edwards, Simone Saunders and Maggie Tagney, one of the production’s most striking elements is its music, which is delivered by a trio of musicians – Benji and Will Bower, and Phil King – and an incredible Melanie Marshall.

What should I look out for?

Edwards’ performance as Pilot – yes, Rochester’s loyal canine – whose excitable tail-wagging, boisterous barking and various sprawled-out positions provide Cookson’s production with heart-warming humour.

Bertha! Arguably the cleverest of Cookson’s ideas was to cast Marshall as Rochester’s cloistered attic-dwelling wife who prowls around the stage dressed in red and gives voice to many of the show’s powerful tunes. Her presence is formidable.

An incredible – though slightly unexpected – rendition of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy from Marshall’s aforementioned Bertha.

In a nutshell?

Sally Cookson’s distinctive directorial style turns Charlotte Brontë’s iconic story into an ingenious feat of theatricality that Jane Eyre enthusiasts will adore and no theatre fan will be able to resist.

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Will I like it?

More than 173,404 words of descriptive first person Victorian narrative translated for the stage; it doesn’t necessarily sound like an exciting prospect, but this is a rare theatrical event that shouldn’t be missed.

With Cookson at the helm, Brontë’s tale is an imaginative feast offering striking movement direction, stunning music and a tiered set that helps convey Jane’s fight against patriarchal domination. It also remains faithful to the original story. What more could you want in a Jane Eyre adaptation? Book your tickets now…

Jane Eyre is booking at the National Theatre Lyttleton until 10 January. You can book tickets through us.

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