Bryony J Thompson’s sensitive adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's classic about a young woman’s treacherous path to true love puts new vigour into an old classic. Jane Eyre, as dimly remembered from GCSE videos, was a dreary character with a Victorian centre parting and dumpy dress sense. In this simple and lovingly adapted stage version, she is restored to her rightful passionate, interesting and determined self.
Hannah Maddison, shining here in her professional debut, combines savvy humour and a believable pragmatism and propriety in the title role as hardened orphan Jane. Her twinkling eyes when she rejects Mr Rochester's strange serenadings makes her admirable and spirited rather than prudish. Rob Pomfret as Rochester uses his wild and chiselled good looks to suggest a half-way-to-mad behaviour — dressing up as an old crone to goad the object of his affections — that rivals the mad wife he keeps locked in the attic.
Thompson adapted the book herself because she couldn’t find a stage version that did it justice, and her dedication shows. This really is a very romantic novel and it is just right that watching the play should be to some degree a literary experience in itself, with the power largely in the romantic expressions and words. It is also however, in the subtle chemistry of our traditional lovers and Maddison and Pomfret, suggesting in just a handshake the growing bond between them, are excellent. Their verbal sparring, the thawing of Jane’s defences and Rochester's crazed wooing, are spot on.
Jane Eyre is at the Rosemary Branch Theatre, 2 Shepperton Road N1, until 30 March. Tickets: £13/£11 (Tuesdays: all tickets £10). Also at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road SE4, from 16-19 April. Tickets £14/£11. Londonist saw Jane Eyre on a complimentary press ticket.