Last week I went to see the fantastic Jane Eyre at the Bristol Old Vic. I have never read the book, didn’t even know the storyline, so it was with some trepidation I headed into town to see it.
I went with two good friends and the Bearded One himself, who isn’t much of a theatre goer, but as it was my birthday he decided to join us. He was so glad he did. I have never been so moved by a theatre performance in all of years of attending shows.
The play itself was split into two parts (we obviously attended part one first) because, as director Sally Cookson explains in the programme “this is a coming of age story, a life story as opposed to just a love story and it felt important to chart Jane’s childhood carefully before we launched into her adult life”. It made a world of difference. I have seen adaptations before where so much is cut out due to the time constraints. This flowed so smoothly and, I was assured by my friend who knew the book, kept all of the crucial moments from the book.
Jane Eyre isn’t a straight play but then, it isn’t a musical. It isn’t musical theatre or physical theatre or any kind of theatre I’ve experience before. The company mix movement with song with music with words with physicality and it all goes together! It’s the kind of theatre I can only dream of creating and it left all of us speechless with its magic. That’s a really messy, confusing description but that’s how I felt.
Let me break it down a little. The music. Wow! I can’t explain it myself so I shall take the words of Composer and Musical Director Benji Bower: “dark, deep, emotional; beautiful singing… with lovely twinkles”. It’s a little folksy, a little classical, and even a little modern – the jazz version of Gnarls Berkley’s Crazy was an unexpected and stunning piece of music. We were all incredibly moved by the music throughout but especially in part one where more than one of us shed a tear.
The first part ended so wonderfully and we were all so gripped we immediately went back the following evening to enjoy part two. It didn’t disappoint in any way. The acting was just as incredible, the story even more engrossing and the music casting an eerie mood upon the proceedings. I’m not a very emotional person but I was crying quite freely by the end of the show.
What I loved most about it is that it’s not a typical period love story. They fight, they’re proud, they won’t back down from their principles. Most importantly they have principles! Rochester is arrogant and short, Jane is stubborn and surly, yet they’re so real you can’t dislike them. Felix Hayes was the perfect mix of sullen and handsome to make you fall in love with a man you don’t even like all that much, while Madeleine Worrall portrayed Jane throughout all of her ages with a pride that had to be respected.
If I weren’t a poor struggling student I would heading back to the Old Vic at the earliest possible moment to enjoy it all over again. From the staging to the multi-rolling it was performed with such magic and beauty even now, a week later I find myself marvelling over it. A perfectly balanced production in ever respect.
Final opinion – five twinkling stars.