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Just occasionally you go to the theatre, think in the early stages that the production is absolutely not your cup of tea, only to discover that your prejudices are being overturned and that initial dismay has given way to sheer delight.The Stage:
Such was my experience at Sally Cookson's thrilling production of Jane Eyre, staged in two parts with a combined running time of four-and-a-half hours.
The action is set on what looks like a modern adventure playground, constructed of wood, and featuring a raised platform, a ramp, lots of step ladders and an on-stage band. (...)
What initially drew me into the production was the wonderful music by Benji Bower ranging from folk tunes and hymns to electronic minimalism and piano passages, played on an on-stage concert grand, reminiscent of that Classic FM favourite Ludovico Einaudi – a composer to whom I am guiltily addicted. (...)
But what really won me over was the clarity with which the complex story is told, combined with a winning directness and lack of artifice about the performances. One is gripped throughout and there isn’t a hint of Victorian fustiness. (Charles Spencer)
Charlotte Brontë might be a mite surprised, I suspect, at this bold and vibrant two-part adaptation of her great Gothic novel. But it is likely she would lend unqualified approval to the way director Sally Cookson has teased out modern themes from amid the romantic melodrama.Stage Talk Magazine:
Cookson has teamed with composer Benji Bower and designer Michael Vale to guide a Bristol Old Vic cast of just six through the familiar narrative of unlikely and seemingly doomed love. The outcome is an imaginative mix of rapid movement and quiet contemplation, set to an emotive yet unobtrusive musical score that stretches all the way from the blues to Noel Coward. (...)
All this is played in part in almost allegorical fashion, but with the novel’s key scenes, such as Jane and Mr Rochester’s startling declaration of love for each other, presented in straight dialogue. As well as doubling and trebling, the cast feature both as Greek Chorus and spoken versions of Jane`s inner thoughts, even being employed on occasions as effective mobile spot light bearers. Meanwhile, the action moves rapidly up, down and along Michael Vale’s striking white wood and metal ladder set. (Jeremy Brien)
In what might be seen as a brave, but to my mind an essential move, Sally Cookson has decided to treat not merely the romantic love story which lies at the core of the novel, but also the wider context of a young woman battling against convention, prejudice, class, poverty, religion and the rest of the stultifying oppression from which women have been emerging for the last century and a half since the novel was written. It is perhaps a sad reflection that Charlotte Brönte’s (sic) cris de coeur still ring as rallying cries today. (...)365 Bristol:
Sally Cookson uses all the colours in the theatrical palette – music, lighting, movement – to lift the story from the page. Her confidence in using all the stage bears fruit and certain scenes, such as the journey from Gateshead to Lowood make for great theatre. Likewise the expression of Jane’s release into and yearning for the wider world on her arrival at Thornfield is beautifully realized. She is served well by a talented cast. (...)
We are very lucky in Bristol to have a theatre willing to take on such a project and give the company the resources sufficient to realize it. However it doesn’t merely deserve our support, it earns it through productions, like this, of the highest quality. (Graham Wyles)
Given the length of the performance, it is pleasing to see that this adaptation has remained fiercely faithful to Brontë’s beloved novel. (...)Bristol Post:
Worrall’s portrayal of Jane Eyre is poignant. Her spirited nature creating tension during moments of confrontation, yet appealing to the sentiment of the audience as she undergoes periods of emotional and physical unrest. Contrastingly Hayes conveys the character of Rochester with a disposition that elicits episodes of dry humour amidst his usual agitated and harsh tendencies towards others. (...)
The show is a visual, verbal and musical masterpiece. All elements integrating well to give an emotionally captivating performance. The script is raw and the staging, minimalistic. Every aspect of the show, an extension of Jane Eyre herself; simple yet full of heart. (Grace Fox)
Our Jane is played by the fantastically timid, wonderfully emotive, reassuringly honest Madeleine Worrall. Amazingly Worrall managed to convincingly portray Jane from child to adult and everything in between. Blessed with the opportunity to play one of our country’s finest female heroines, Worrall certainly seized the role with both hands plucking the heartstrings of every member of the audience.Whatsonstage:
Felix Hayes’ Rochester was satisfactory enough to keep the story alive, however, his lack of commitment at times to understanding the truth of Rochester and Jane’s situation was evident: merely shouting a line to enforce a sense of anger does not mean that we believe he is actually angry.
But my applause at the end of the night was saved for the simply perfect Melanie Marshall. The play’s atmosphere was driven entirely by her voice, and whilst that may sound exaggerated, I assure you it is justified.
There are a few cosmetic problems I have with Cookson’s production – Edward’s portrayal as man-dog Pilot in particular – however, its success lies in its bravery. Cookson relieves the stage of clutter and allows our imagination to be exercised. It is quite simply a masterful piece of adaptation and in the words of our protagonist herself: “I do like it. I DARE to like it!” (Richard Hill)
The feast of ideas and sounds along with a constantly rotating cast of characters do leave some of the actors struggling to make a mark over the production, Felix Hayes, without the luxury of camera close-up or pages of descriptive prose, struggles to give a fully rounded performance as the gruff, rough Rochester, though one sympathises with this talented actor who only can really portray this difficult character in broad brushstrokes. However Madeleine Worrall is superb as Jane, there is an openness and honesty in her work, which matched with her impeccable technical ability, marks her out as an actor from the top drawer, and someone who should be given an opportunity to make her mark on Hedda and Nora and their ilk forthwith. Laura Elphinstone also holds her own amongst the production in her essays on a range of characters including, Jane's tragic school friend, Rochester's French ward and the driven pastor who offers Jane a different potential life.EDIT:
You leave feeling that Cookson will soon enough deliver us a stage masterpiece for the 21st century. Though Jane Eyre isn't quite it, its too flabby, the amount of joy, exuberance and invention at large ensures this day in the theatre is nothing if not well spent. (Kris Hallett)
It’s costume drama, but not as we know it. Having recently offered radical, unforgettable reinventions of Cinderella and Peter Pan, the director Sally Cookson now offers a four-and-a-half hour version of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, spread over two separate performances. It calls for commitment, no question. Yet newcomers and Brontë-holics alike will be gripped, amused and moved by a boldly theatrical show whose innovations and heresies are always there to serve the story. (Dominic Maxwell)
The first half of part one is rather one-note; it’s just one damn thing after another. Jane’s transformation from tormented schoolgirl to self-possessed governess consequently feels rather rushed, especially as the first half as a whole is terribly drawn-out. The pace picks up in the second half, and the love that blossoms between Jane and Rochester is well done. The first half of part two is similarly pacy and entertaining, and then it flags again in the second half. Frustratingly, it feels like a brilliant show struggling under the weight of extraneous narrative. There’s some fat to be trimmed here, but all in all it’s an enjoyable and extremely well-acted show. (Eleanor Turney)EDIT: The Guardian (4 out of 5):
It is a remarkable performance of startling modernity and unaffected honesty.Lukewarm
You can say much the same of the entire show, which suffers from an occasional loss of energy in the pacing but is marked by an attention to storytelling and consistent invention. (...)
The show is at its best when it is most surprising. There is a glorious moment when Jane's recognition of her feelings for Rochester is marked by Noël Coward's Mad About the Boy. By rights it should jar, but it feels utterly right and of the moment. There's plenty more like that in a show that eddies and flows like a river, sometimes a whirlpool of movement and at others as quiet and smooth as glass.
This feels like a real ensemble. Perhaps Felix Hayes isn't quite given the opportunity needed to develop Rochester beyond the traditional 19th-century romantic antihero, but Laura Elphinstone seizes her chances as the overexcitable Adela and the sanctimonious St John. It's a marathon (see both parts on the same day if possible) but one of wistful textured beauty that reveals a true heroine who never sells us – or herself – short. (Lyn Gardner)
Four and a half hours in the theatre. It’s time you could use to run a marathon, watch a quarter of the latest House of Cards series, or nail a fair few guitar chords. Plus you probably already know how Jane Eyre ends.The blogs Ursula Writes, Claire Thinking (EDIT: and MadamJ-Mo) review the play as well.
This original production at Bristol Old Vic, directed by Sally Cookson, is quite the long haul if you choose to see both parts on the same day. (...)
Perhaps it’s because the second half is where the action happens in the novel; certainly there was more variety in the presentation and the emotion more intense. (...)
Especially haunting was the exceptional voice of Melanie Marshall as a whimsical, distant Bertha; who near the conclusion broke into a version of Crazy by Gnarls Barkley which was perfectly pitched.
By the end of part two, Madeleine Worrall as Jane had done an admirable job of balancing our heroine’s inner toughness with her vulnerability and there were a few teary eyes among the audience.
Although that could also have been tiredness after four and a half hours. (Nicola Yeeles)