6th November 2023
On Thursday night at 7pm, I sat down to watch National Theatre’s production, with Bristol Old Vic, of Jane Eyre, the live, recorded stream of the 2015 production. It is encouraging to see the recent accessible adaptation that theatre has taken to the screen, from cinema to our homes. Whilst going to the theatre is an irreplaceable experience, the added benefit of watching alongside over 60,000 people and the close-up camera shots created an overall memorable spectacle.
This Jane Eyre production is directed by Sally Cookson, who authentically portrays Charlotte Brontë’s novel in its entirety. Jane is responsible for driving the plot forward, an orphan who develops into a strong-willed young woman.
Along the way, we are introduced to a variety of other characters who both aid and hinder her development. Firstly, we meet her aunt, Mrs Reed (Maggie Tagney), who is cold and distant which causes Jane to misbehave out of frustration. Fortunately, she befriends Helen (Laura Elphinstone) at Lowood School for orphaned girls, who is a more balanced character devoted to Jane and religion, teaching her the importance of loving your enemies. Finally, Jane meets Rochester, who proves to be testing yet he is instrumental in teaching Jane to love herself.
However, Jane’s course of progression is not resemblant of an upward trajectory. Her journey to freedom is instead literally and metaphorically represented through an imaginary horse and carriage which is portrayed by the actors themselves. There are many interruptions to her long trips, such as the journey she makes from teaching at a school to a manor house. This is excellently mimicked by Madeleine Worrall as Jane who portrays her tiring pursuit for personal change through her facial expressions and outbursts of exasperation.
As well as the human horse and carriage prop, there are wooden frames on the raised platform stage which depict ladders and windows. The polar oppositions expressed in the orientational metaphors, up and down and in and out, imply that with every positive there is a negative. This effectively furthers the main theme of the play, freedom, as it allows the audience to view Jane looking out the window as her seeking for independence and freewill whilst reminding us that she is trapped inside.
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”Jane expresses her defiance at being treated as a bird trapped in a cage
The raised platforms on the stage are then utilised to express hierarchy, a unique, physical demonstration of Mr Brocklehurst’s (Craig Edwards) power. As a strict and severe supervisor of Lowood School, the higher level accentuates his threatening influence on Jane as young girl when he bellows out religious doctrines.
It would be an incomplete review of Jane Eyre if I didn’t mention Jane and Rochester’s relationship. One of the main reasons why Jane is drawn to Rochester is because of his alluring past. He briefly confides in her about his mysterious previous relationship with Bertha Mason (Melanie Marshall), a complex yet misunderstood character. Disappointingly, Bertha was slightly underdeveloped. With the play taking place in the present day, there was an opportunity to explore the 19th century novel in this day and age by increasing her interactions with other characters. Nevertheless, Marshall’s stunning vocals were given the utmost consideration, as she sang the majority of the songs in the performance.
In an interview with National Theatre, Music Director, Benji Bower, remarks on his decision to include a slowed-down version of the 2006 song Crazy by Gnarls Barkley alongside the original score. The recognisable, popular song is successful in enabling the audience to consider Bertha from a modern perspective and to question how she may be treated differently today.
Ultimately, Jane Eyre is concerned with Rochester and Jane’s struggle to unite, but moreover it is about her arduous journey to freedom. With The National Theatre consistently following the plot, this is a worthy adaptation of the novel as it enables the key moments of Jane’s development to be highlighted.
National Theatre Live continues next Thursday at 7pm. This time, the free streaming on YouTube will be of Bryony Lavery’s Treasure Island.