Sally Cookson’s JANE EYRE at Birmingham Rep

When adapting a novel to a stage play, it is often difficult to create something interesting that is still true to the plot and meaning of said novel; yet director Sally Cookson seems to do this flawlessly. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is a loose representation of her own experiences. Bronte was in love with her volatile and intelligent teacher, and it is said that he was her motive for writing this book to prove that she was his equal; this is mirrored by Jane’s drive to be of the same importance as her male peers.

Jane Eyre is the story of a young girl who is forced to live with her obnoxious Aunt Reed and her three unpleasant children. Her fiery and wild behaviour, coupled with her aunt’s dislike of her, gets Jane sent to a catholic boarding school. At this school, she is taught to be a plain and proper lady who is reasonably intelligent , who can sew and speak French. Whilst at the school she also experiences the death of her best friend. As she grows, Jane decides to step out into the world of work and apply for a post of governess in a place called Thornfield hall. There she meets the unpredictable and flighty Mr Rochester. This starts a series of events that ultimately lead to the two being together, but not before tragedies such as death, loss and suffering have occurred.

The set of this play surprised me, as it was very minimalistic, consisting of different wooden platforms, beams and stools. I thought that this was effective and made the audience focus on the play and helped to strip back the layers down to its basic foundation. I also felt as if the set cleverly represented the personality of Jane and her apparent simplicity. The lighting with its bright red and warm, flickering yellows, contrasted with the set and seemed to represent the more complex and fiery aspects of Jane’s personality.

Although this play is melancholic in many ways, Cookson has scattered comic relief throughout to counteract the heavy, intense aspects of the play. The lighter moments came in the form of Pilot, Mr Rochester’s dog, played convincingly by Paul Mundell. As soon as Mundell came running and panting onto the stage, there was laughing among the amused audience members, including myself and my companion. Another strong aspect amongst the characters is the undeniable chemistry between Jane, played by Nadia Clifford, and Mr Rochester, played by Tim Delap. This realistic relationship, which eventually comes to fruition, made my friend, and most likely other theatre goers, leave the theatre in tears.

I would highly recommend that those who have read the novel and those who haven’t, to go and see this masterful adaptation, if not for the play itself, then for Melanie Marshall’s, ethereal rendition of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, which sent shivers down my spine.  ★★★★★   Abigail Pearson       5th September 2017