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Jane Eyre at the Lyttelton, National Theatre – ‘inventively staged and captivating’

A scene from Jane Eyre. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Sally Cookson’s adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s novel – originally staged in two parts when performed in Bristol last year – feels like a thing fuelled by love, both for the source material and for the character of Jane and all she represents.

Even in this (relatively) condensed version, room is given to the parts of the novel usually skimmed over: to Jane’s childhood in particular, and the events that make and shape her – the terror of the red room, the cruelties of Lowood, the death of poor Helen Burns.

The staging is full of inventive touches. Michael Vale’s spare, curtained set is superbly versatile, with a series of platforms and ladders suggesting Thornfield and Aideen Malone’s lighting adding texture and colour. Benji Bower’s atmospheric music is also central to the feel of piece.

Though she doesn’t entirely avoid the difficulties inherent in playing Jane as a child, Madeleine Worrall is captivating, capturing Jane’s self-knowledge and freedom of mind, her strength and spirit; Felix Hayes is everything you want in a Rochester: brusque, difficult, prickly, but also massively charismatic and in possession of a rich, rolling voice. But as good as they both are, this is very much an ensemble piece,the company working tightly together to create the world of the play.

The production wears its length lightly and while it isn’t afraid to tease, to take risks – something which is particularly true of its use of song – it’s also faithful to the spirit of the book, its boldness and romance, its feminism, its enduring power.

An inventively staged and captivating adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s novel

Production Information

Jane Eyre
Lyttelton, National Theatre
September 17, 2015
January 10, 2016
Press night
September 17, 2015
Charlotte Bronte
Devised by the company
Benji Bower
Sally Cookson
Michael Vale
Aideen Malone
Mike Beer, Dominic Bilkey
Katie Sykes
Dan Canham (movement director), Renny Krupinski (fight director), Mike Akers (dramaturg), Ellen Havard (staff director)
Stage manager
Shane Thom, Andrew Speed (stage managers), Bryony Rutter (DSM), Jo Phipps (assistant stage manager)
Production manager
Garry Pell
Cast includes
Benji Bower, Will Bower, Elly Condron, Craig Edwards, Laura Elphinstone, Felix Hayes, Richard Hurst, Phil King, Melanie Marshall, Simone Saunders, Jools Scott, Maggie Tagney, Joannah Tincey, Stevie Thompson, Madeleine Worrall
National Theatre, Bristol Old Vic
Running time
3 hrs 20 mins