Like most fans of Eng Lit, the Brontë sisters have played a big part in my academic life. I quite liked Jane Eyre and thought the Michael Fassbender film was good but I was always more of a Wuthering Heights girl. Perhaps it was the wildness of the characters and harshness of the story that made it resonate with me more.
However, the production of Jane Eyre now on at The Lowry as part of a UK tour, is pretty incredible.
It’s the story of the protagonist’s somewhat troubled childhood, her growth to adulthood and her love for Mr. Rochester, the master of Thornfield Hall, where she goes to work as a governess.
With incredible direction by Sally Cookson, this production is true to the novel and the era in which it is set, but includes some modern theatrical elements and songs.
A wonderful but simple set has been constructed consisting of a range of levels which are accessible by ladders. Basic but extremely effective, the levels enable the audience to imagine the scene very vividly and give the actors lots of scope to portray parts of the story using physical theatre.
The cast is of an extremely high calibre, with not a single weak actor involved. And Melanie Marshall who played Berta had the most beautiful singing voice. Her singing was sometimes eerie, sometimes animated but always incredible enough to cause goosebumps.
The band, onstage for almost the entire production, are exceptionally talented and the music as a whole was brilliant.
Jane Eyre herself, portrayed by Manchester born and bred Nadia Clifford, was excellent. From playing Jane as a young girl to playing her as an adult, changing both her physicality and her voice, her acting was perfect.
And Jane’s love interest, Mr Rochester, was played perfectly by Tim Delap. The chemistry between the two was great, very romantic, though melancholy in parts. If you know the story, you’ll know what I mean.
The rest of the cast were all excellent and incredibly versatile, playing many different parts and capturing each character flawlessly.
Paul Mundell, in particular, was great, playing a strict headmaster, a shy little boy and even a hyperactive dog with believability. As the dog, he had a ‘tail’ in his hands which he would whip against his leg to create a realistic tail thumping sound. And the way he lay down and sat up abruptly when Adele stopped patting him was perfect.
The elements of physical theatre were also great, from several cast members portraying a carriage thundering through the countryside to Mr Rochester on his horse, nothing was difficult to imagine, even though there wasn’t a horse or carriage in sight.
Large parts of the novel focus on what Jane is thinking rather than saying or doing. These are incorporated in the production rather brilliantly with different cast members playing different parts of Jane’s subconscious. Arguing over the decisions she made and her feelings for Rochester, these moments were delightful and somehow naturalistic in reflecting her inner thoughts and struggles.
I have to give some credit to the technical team too because the lighting was incredible. From the harsh scarlet lighting of the ‘red room’ to the incredibly realistic lightning effects, with a brilliant use of spotlights and some warm wash lights to create ambience in places, it was all brilliantly done.
The special effect of the fire was also a spectacle to behold. With flames leaping up from holes in the ground and several cast members dropping orange flickers to the stage floor, this scene was mesmerising.
And the scene in which ash – several black strips of confetti-style paper – fell from the ceiling was effective and very aesthetically pleasing.
The only criticism I have of the production was that the school section went on a little too long. Other than that, everything was very well paced and thoroughly enjoyable.
I even found myself getting a little teary-eyed at the end which was beautifully romantic and a mirror of the beginning, with similar staging and the same line being repeated.
If you’re a fan of theatre then you will enjoy this production. Brilliant performances, wonderful effects, fantastic use of physicality and incredible songs, it really does have it all. So, if you can, go and see it. Whether you’re a fan of the classics, or just a theatre fanatic, it’s not a show to be missed.
The Lowry until Saturday 15 April. Book tickets here.