Every once in a while there comes along a theatrical tour-de-force that is so mindblowingly good that it renders its audience almost speechless.
This is the case with the Bristol Old Vic’s production of Jane Eyre, currently playing at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking.
Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece is, of course, a classic, blending as it does the timeless themes of love, loss and tragedy. But director Sally Cookson has picked out another, perhaps stronger, theme to the work – that of women’s suppression and inequality in early Victorian Britain.
Jane Eyre is a small, dowdy, plain orphan child sent away to school by her uncaring stepfamily. But underneath her unremarkable exterior beats a heart full of passion, ruthlessly surpressed by those tasked with her education. To a Victorian schoolmaster the finest attributes in a young woman were submission, meekness and fear. Jane’s encounter with the equally passionate and tormented soul that beats in the breast of Mr Rochester sets in train a series of events that end in tragedy – but not for Jane; for the incarcerated madwoman who haunts the upper floor of Thornfield Hall and the deepest recesses of Rochester’s troubled mind.
It’s a savage, fiery book, and this is a savage, fiery, haunting performance.
It’s long – three hours – and intense. A brutal wooden set, with ladders and ramps, is the backdrop for an absorbing ride through the tale, carried along by the emotion of the occasion. Because this is an occasion –a very special one. Rarely have I seen theatre like this.
The tale is told through improvisation, song, and wonderful staging. The audience has to work to keep up because the story moves along at a fast pace, but the effort expended is worth every moment.
Nadia Clifford as Jane and Tim Delap as Rochester exhibit a taut, demanding connection. Melanie Marshall as the incarcreated first Mrs Rochester has the most sublime voice, and her haunting rendition of Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’ sent shivers up the spine.
The main characters are supported by a strong company, taking on the parts of the characters who stride through the pages of Charlotte’s book, and some immensely adaptable musicians. The staging is superb:?sparse yet effective lighting and decor helps weave a magical spell that creates the set in the audience’s mind. And even that spare staging has the ability to shock as the tale is told.
This is a wonderful production. It is at The New Victoria Theatre until Saturday (June 3rd).