At the beginning of December I had the pleasure of going to see a performance of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, Jane Eyre, with one of my old university friends. Neither of us had ever heard of Jane Eyre being turned into a theatre production before so we were extremely curious to see how it would work. Of course, I have seen the numerous TV and film adaptations that have aired and I have read the book a couple of times, so it’s fair to say I know the storyline very well and, although I love it, I just didn’t think a theatre performance would bring anything new to this well-worn tale of love against all odds.
I’m glad to say I was extremely wrong about this assumption. I haven’t seen a theatre production so well-done, so cleverly staged and hauntingly brilliant in a long time. The cast was made up of a handful of actors who took on multiple roles and with only a slight wardrobe change (maybe a different coat or hat thrown on top of their original outfit) they were able to completely transform themselves into other people.
The only character who didn’t change was the first Mrs Rochester, whose presence was a constant throughout the performance. Although most of the time she was hidden in the background, her astounding voice would add just the right amount of tension with contemporary songs I recognised and others I didn’t. One really harrowing scene that I will never forget was the burning of Thornfield Hall. As this is magically recreated on stage, the first Mrs Rochester is singing a slowed-down version of the Gnarles Barkley hit, ‘Crazy‘, and the words are just so beautiful and so relevant to her situation. In this production she is given a voice which is never expressed in the original story of Jane Eyre, where she is brushed off as being ‘the madwoman in the attic’. It reminded me so much of Jean Rhys’s wonderful imagining of Mrs Rochester’s side of the story – a writing back to the classics – in Wide Sargasso Sea.
Unfortunately, this production is only on at the National Theatre until 10th January but from the trailer below it looks like it will be shown in cinemas as part of National Theatre Live!