If you see one play in Bristol this week, make it Jane Eyre at the Old Vic. Moving yet amusing, tender yet unabashed, the play, co-produced with the National Theatre, kicks off the Bristol Old Vic’s 250th anniversary celebrations in style. Well, less style more bedraggled petticoats and practical corduroy breeches, but let’s not hold nineteenth century fashion sense against them.
Returning to Bristol after a two-year stint at the National Theatre in London, 2016’s production is an abridged version of the hefty two-parter that impressed Bristol audiences in 2014. Don’t be deceived – the whittling down of the running time doesn’t make it any less of a treat.
The play chronicles the eponymous heroine’s life, from birth, through her turbulent childhood, a troubled placement as a Governess, right up to the infamous climax. Madeleine Worrall plays each part with ease, and conveys the unsightly lolloping of an uncared for little girl as convincingly as she does the steady composure of a Governess.
Felix Hayes is a complementary pairing to Worrall’s Eyre, and he delivers an accomplished performance as Rochester, although it can’t be said that his character is particularly likeable; belligerent and agreeable, cold and scathing, warm and loving in equal measure, Rochester truly is a conundrum.
In fact, the cast as a whole are particularly versatile, each of them tackling numerous roles and snapping back and forth between them with apparent ease. Even Rochester’s dog is brought to life in a memorable portrayal by Craig Edwards, whose ability to capture the joyful simplicity of a canine existence is uncanny – and possibly without rival!
Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of the play though is the ever-present onstage band. The musical score – from classic offerings such as Noël Coward’s Mad About the Boy to more recent work such as Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, all rendered in operatic voice by Melanie Marshall – is woven into the very fabric of the play and embellishes everything from the script to the actors’ very movements across the stage. It accompanies every look, every breath, every unspoken whisper of Jane’s conscience. In contrast to the rather bleak staging the obvious musical accompaniment lends the play a luxurious, almost celluloid feel, which belies the humble theatrical surroundings.
If you’re partial to a literary classic smattered with high drama and romance, some good old fashioned theatrical magic and a touch of class, then watch this play. In town for just a few more performances before heading off on tour, tickets will no doubt be in high demand, so book now for what is sure to be a packed finale on Saturday evening.
Jane Eyre is on at the Bristol Old Vic until 6 Feb 2016. For information and tickets click here.