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Theatre Review: Jane Eyre @ The National Theatre

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Bristol Old Vic has brought its innovative, incredibly modern production of Jane Eyre back to the National Theatre after a successful UK tour – and, as is befitting of two such respected venues, it’s a must-see.

After an arguably weak couple of opening minutes, the cast settles into an assured production that is worthy of both its production credentials and the much-loved work that it’s based upon.

Nadia Clifford’s performance as Jane is subtle and incredibly powerful, staying faithful to the strong yet sympathetic character that made Charlotte Bronte’s novel a feminist classic. A special mention should also go out to Hannah Bristow, who, as Helen Burns, Adele and various other characters, takes on multiple central roles and makes them completely distinct. Her performances – all four of them – are stand-out.  

Having a small cast works 90% of the time, but fails on the odd occasion – it’s hard to take a large man with a full beard posing as a female child in the Lowood scenes seriously, for example. Overall, though, this doesn’t detract from the production in a profound or long-lasting way.  

The production makes full use of both music and physicality, to stunning effect. The sparseness of the set allows the character-driven drama to unfold, with strong and deliberately physical performances taking centre stage and rendering the experience, at times, devastating – as it should be. The directorial decisions make it clear from the outset that the often harrowing story of Jane Eyre is not going to be sugar-coated here.

This physicality compliments the musical aspects of the production, which are many. There have been various attempts to give Bertha Mason a voice over the years, and this one - from the magnificent Melanie Marshall, who has previously starred in a television production of Wide Sargasso Sea - is innovative and completely original, offering us sombre reflection of the key themes that are at play.   

Bristol Old Vic’s overarching aim is to “create pioneering 21st Century theatre”, and in this production of an established literary classic they’ve certainly succeeded. This Jane Eyre is unmistakably for now, whilst keeping a firm grasp on the messaging that made its source material so timeless.

Jane Eyre is playing at the Lyttelton Theatre at the National until 21st October. Get tickets here

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