Review: Jane Eyre - Three hours plus, still classic zings along

The cast of National Theatre's Jane Eyre
The cast of National Theatre's Jane Eyre
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FLAMES, scaffolding, decking and ladders. Hand-held electric lamps, floating window frames, white drapes, and a man playing a dog, ‘Here Pilot!’

Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street

* * * *

Safe to say there’s an experimental nature to the National Theatre’s invigorating new production of Jane Eyre.

It affords the company shortcuts in the retelling of Charlotte Bronte’s tragic love story, which still comes in at a mammoth three hours and 15 minutes or there abouts, including interval.

But then, to be faithful to the book, there’s a lot to cram in. Perhaps too much. This production was original presented as two separate plays. It is easy to see why.

That said, the 96 minute first act fairly zings along, a testament to the talent on stage.

A tale of female emancipation and self-determination in the days before feminism was a thing, Jane Eyre has long been regarded a literary classic, the stuff of BBC One Sunday night costume dramas.

It charts the life of head-strong Jane. Orphaned and raised by her harridan aunt, she charts her own path in life, becoming a governess.

However, when she falls in love with her brooding employer Edward Rochester, a man with a dark secret, tragedy awaits.

In the title role, Nadia Clifford is a force of nature. Energetic, inquisitive and instantly engaging, she hops from vignette to vignette as Jane’s life unfolds in a collage of stylised movement and a clear, crisply delivered script.

Scenes are further lifted by the gifted vocals of Melanie Marshall who sings the role of Bertha Mason. It is a stunning performance with some unexpectedly poignant renditions of familiar tunes, never more so than her electric delivery of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, during which you could hear a pin drop.

Also on fine form is Lynda Rooke who slips effortlessly between Jane’s cold, bitter aunt, Mrs Reed, and the lovable, kindly house-keeper Mrs Fairfax. Two entirely disparate characters.

As Rochester, Tim Delap’s ‘trite, commonplace sinner’ is an earnest man, peculiar, distracted and distant.

Elsewhere, members of the company flit from role to role, creating, on the whole, beautiful little cameos.

With the band on stage throughout (padding for Michael Vale’s stark modern design) the production soars until shortly into Act Two at which point the impetus is lost.

An accessible, if slightly over-indulgent production then, but one that is well worth seeing, if you can afford the time.

Run ends Saturday