1 January 2016

NT Live: Jane Eyre

Being a National Theatre Live enthusiast, I regret having to miss any of their transmissions and have no problem with going to an Encore, as the repeats are called. It was as an Encore that I saw Jane Eyre last month – it will be available again in the UK in January and will be shown overseas in coming months, I believe. The production’s run at the Lyttleton in London ends on 10 January.

Charlotte Brontë’s famous novel was first published in 1847 as Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, and this dramatization stays close to the spirit of that original title. It began at the Bristol Old Vic in 2014 when it was played for four and a half hours spread over two nights, as devised by the company of 10 actors and musicians with the direction of Sally Cookson. The version for the NT has been reduced in length by over an hour and runs on one night only.

We follow Jane, played through life by Madeleine Worrall, from birth to final rapprochement with Mr Rochester (Felix Hayes). It’s a long time since I read the book, but I was assured by a recent reader that all its key events are represented in this staging, whatever might have been dropped in the truncation since Bristol. I suppose the style of the production could be described as fussy minimalism. There is one set, formed of platforms, ladders and a ramp, which, with lighting changes and real flames on occasion, provides at least six locations. The company are similarly stretched by taking on numerous parts including that of an ensemble railway train. The versatile Laura Elphinstone takes on, among others, Jane’s pupil, Adèle, and the missionary, St John Rivers. On the other hand, there is a band, almost continuous music, and some fine singing from Melanie Marshall, who is also Mrs Rochester, the one in the attic.

Although Worrall and Hayes’s performances were sterling, Jane Eyre would never have been my favourite NT Live offering, and left me looking forward to Donmar’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses at the end of the month. The NT version of Jane Eyre is going on tour, back to the Bristol Old Vic from 21 January to 6 February, then the Theatre Royal Nottingham 9 to 13 February and the Hong Kong Arts Festival 18 to 21 February.


I have just come across an interview with Sally Cookson on the Bristol Old Vic website in which she explains what she intended to achieve in this adaptation of Jane Eyre. The photographs show the set, starting with what I referred to above as an “ensemble railway train ”.

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