REVIEW: Jane Eyre, MK Theatre

Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre

You get two for the price of one with the celebrated Creagh/Carr Review - the opinions of seasoned hackette Bev Creagh and flamboyant newshound Stewart Carr. Here’s what they thought of the National Theatre/Bristol Old Vic collaboration of Jane Eyre, at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday, July 15.

CREAGH SAYS .... This is Jane Eyre as you’ve never seen her before in a production that rocks – raw, edgy, emotional and unbelievably powerful.

The set is stark and post modern, a vast climbing frame-come-scaffolding that doubles as the terrifying red room of her childhood and the bleak Yorkshire moors, to the Dickensian school where she was incarcerated and the country mansion of the enigmatic Mr Rochester.

The special effects are also astonishing and the three piece band teases, pleases and thunders with such intensity that it appears the whole theatre trembles. It weaves opera, gospel, jazz and folk, providing a remarkable musical background and emphasis to the storyline.

And then there are the actors, almost all of whom play multiple characters.

Special mention must be made of Paul Mundell as Mr Brocklehurst, Pilot and Mason. He moves from stern schoolmaster to over-affectionate, tail thumping dog with consummate ease, his canine mannerisms almost uncanny.

Evelyn Millar is also outstanding as Bessie/Blanche Ingram and St John, each a spell-binding cameo.

The story starts and ends with the birth of a girl. The initial infant in swaddling clothes unravels to reveal Jane’s first dress and in a neat finale book end, her dress rolls up to become a new bundle of joy.

Nadia Clifford as the spirited orphan created by Charlotte Bronte gives a riveting performance, proving that feminism was alive and thriving long before anyone put a label to it.

Her accent can be difficult to follow and is occasionally drowned out by the band but she is true to herself and her beliefs, no matter what life throws at her.

Tim Delap is a masterful Rochester – unpredictable, wracked by his past yet with a magnetism that proves irresistible to the consciously independent Jane.

And as for Melanie Marshall as Bertha Mason – she’s simply magnificent. Her rich powerful voice soars through the production. She’s a stunning troubadour, a narrator and how clever to cast her as the mad wife Rochester tries to deny.

All in all a stunning evening at the theatre which will electrify your senses. Don’t miss it.

CARR SAYS ... I think there’s an idea in the ‘bizz’ that each English classic must appear in every form of entertainment for it to truly deserve a place on the prized shelves of our literary cannon.

We’ve seen dozens of Jane Eyre’s on film and television and after a slumber of decades, it was only right that this revamped theatre production should give it a go.

And quite a long ‘go’ it is!

At three hours, whether this play is really worth the time depends on how much you’re taken away with its reimagined flames – they do actually consume the stage – of Jane Eyre’s desire.

Nadia Clifton in the title role puzzled me. While I liked the natural use of a Yorkshire accent for Jane Eyre, Clifton’s leaden approach would have you believe anyone with a regional dialect should speak with a mental age of about five.

Her bouts of primeval shrieking destroy the intellect and the self-control that fortified the heroine of the novel. One crawling meltdown follows another and I didn’t see the tenacity that for many exemplifies Jane Eyre.

Stripped down is probably the best way to describe it. So much of the novel’s dialogue is rightly cut out of necessity and so too is its rigid aesthetic.

Puffed-up sleeves and stifling Victorian frocks are out, we’re down to underskirts and corsets as the supporting actors volley between roles including barnyard animals and at the very beginning, a baby.

This ensemble races up and down ladders on a scaffold set that evolves into each setting of the novel, brought to life with technicolour lighting and a cinematic score. A ‘folk band’ reminiscent of Mumford & Sons gives it some rootsy identity and a truly scene-stealing opera narration by Melanie Marshall helps steer the plot from scene to scene.

My verdict was that I was left as unconvinced by a stage adaptation of Jane Eyre as before. But as fan of the novel, I’m glad that I’ve seen it!

Jane Eyre plays at MK Theatre until Saturday, July 15. See here for tickets.