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Classic tale receives reinvention

Reporter: Paul Genty
Date online: 13 April 2017

Jane Eyre

Lowry, Salford, until Saturday


THE National Theatre has already had a lot of success with this stage version of Charlotte Brontë's classic story - mainly because its not what you expect from the term "Brontë classic", all brooding characters and dark corners.

The 170-year-old novel of a young woman's attempt to take life on her terms was years ahead of its time, so director Sally Cookson has given it a look fitting for the 21st century.

Even across two full-length nights in its original incarnation, the drama was a hit - even more so when later condensed to one night at the National Theatre.

This new national tour opens at The Lowry and is cut again to 185 minutes that don't exactly gallop along but give the story most of the meaning and depth it deserves, and perhaps a little it doesn't need.

In Cookson's vision, out have gone drab rooms and dour northerners and any attempt to make the set realistic; instead we have simple drapes around the set walls, a few lighting effects and a lot of ladders and woodwork (that don't serve any great purpose), clearing the way for great emphasis on the characters and storytelling.

The result is a long but satisfying evening that offers rounded, complex characters and only marginally skimps on the storyline. It will help if you know the book, but the story is pretty clear if you haven't, and Jane gets the true gender-heroine status literary history has given her.

Manchester actress Nadia Clifford is a no-nonsense, admirable leading lady, a woman of today in a long-forgotten past in which women learned embroidery so they would have something to do in the evenings...

Tim Delap is a full-bearded, quirky Rochester, the love of Jane's life; very much the modern man with a secret literally in the attic. Well not exactly secret: Bertha Mason is locked away, dressed in violent red and present in the form of Oldham actress and singer Melanie Marshall, and stunning she is too - though I could have done without the too-obvious sentiments of "Mad about the Boy" and "Crazy" (yes it sounds silly for them to be in a show of this period, but it mostly works).

It's not what anyone might have been expecting, but all credit to Cookson for bringing Brontë into the modern age.

 

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