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Jane Eyre review at Lyttelton, National Theatre, London – ‘a decent production that’s lost its footing’

Hannah Bristow, Evelyn Miller and Lynda Rooke in Jane Eyre. Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg Hannah Bristow, Evelyn Miller and Lynda Rooke in Jane Eyre. Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg
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Three years ago, when this adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s novel premiered in Bristol before transferring to the National, it stood on a heap of rave reviews. In the three years since, which have seen the show change cast and tour the country, it seems to have lost its footing.

There are still some wonderful ideas in the production, directed by Sally Cookson, like the synchronised movement as the cast become fragments of Jane’s consciousness or turn into horses. But the show was devised by the original company, and these new cast members wear the roles like ill-fitting clothes.

At first Nadia Clifford’s Jane is very difficult to hear, swallowed by the music and sound design. Eventually Clifford finds her voice, but it’s a strange voice. She delivers lines and individual words at unpredictable pitches, casting up and down the octaves so that the result is unusual and a little off-putting.

Tim Delap as Rochester spits his lines out like a stern schoolmaster. There’s charm beneath the bushy beard, but Delap throws a little rage in there too for a Rochester that’s a bit of a domineering brute. Evelyn Miller is particularly strong as Bessie and St John among other characters, but it doesn’t feel enough like the actors are inhabiting these parts.

Despite a very slow start, the production shakes off its inertia and, mainly thanks to Melanie Marshall as poor Bertha, wandering the stage like a ghost and only able to express herself through song, it ends on a high note. The songs she sings, like Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, as well as Benji Bower’s music in general, are really lovely.

This is clearly a very decent production, but it’s not in its finest form here.

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A new cast struggles to make this Charlotte Bronte adaptation sing