Charlotte Brönte's Classic Novel Goes Contemporary At National Theatre

Jane Eyre at National Theatre ★★★★☆

By Silvia Baretta Last edited 29 months ago
Charlotte Brönte's Classic Novel Goes Contemporary At National Theatre Jane Eyre at National Theatre 4
From left to right: actors Maggie Tagney, Felix Hayes, Laura Elphinstone, Madeleine Worrall, Simone Saunders and Craig Edwards. Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

The only thing that Sally Cookson's current production of Jane Eyre at the National Theatre shares with its source novel's period is the costumes. All the rest — stage setting, script and the acting itself — resembles a piece of avant-garde, contemporary theatre.

At first glance, we're surprised and intrigued by the set: an intricate structure made of wood blocks and iron stairs (you can get an idea with the picture above). Then, the cast: formed of seven actors and three musicians, they interchange roles and run energetically around the stage for the whole duration while the focus remains on Jane — a small, plucky and quite indomitable Madeleine Worrall. We're fascinated by her talent of embodying different phases of Jane's life, from her birth (she opens the play wailing like a baby), through a difficult childhood and finally to adulthood, where she finds love in the person of Mr Rochester — played by a stark, imposing and quite funny Felix Hayes.

Although the three-hour-long (!) show is quite loyal to Charlotte Brönte's novel, it's the interpretation of it that presents a whole new story to our curious eyes. The spoken register keeps an old-fashioned tone but at the same time feels fresh and quite sarcastic, most of all when the characters talk about God and religion. The narration is intertwined by live music played by that ensemble (who occasionally join the actors during the play) and by the wonderful, tender voice of Melanie Marshall, who embodies Bertha Mason.

Jane Eyre is a story of sacrifice and rebellion, and at the same time it's the personal battle of a woman who wants to live a better life, who wants to be loved. There was much of Jane Eyre in Brönte's personal life as there might be in a woman of our times — that's why this 170 year old novel is still vivid and remarkable nowadays. If you want to experience something imaginative, creative and alternative, then get your tickets for this one.

Jane Eyre is on until 10 January 2016 at National Theatre, Southbank, SE1 9PX. Tickets are £15-£55. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary press ticket.

Last Updated 18 September 2015