Theatre Review: Jane Eyre @The New Vic

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Photo- New Vic Theatre

The New Vic continues its 60th Anniversary season with a co-production of the popular classic Jane Eyre alongside the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. Adapted for the stage by Chris Bush, this version keeps close to the original storyline of Charlotte Bronte’s classic romantic novel.

First published around 175 years ago, many would question how relevant the plot would be to the modern-day audience. It is probably true that a modern-day publisher would frown on the contrived way that Jane finds her feet after near-disaster and becomes financially independent, However, this tale of a young girl who is determined to thrive despite all the knocks of her early life still resonates in the twenty-first century. Bronte produced a heroine who can still attract the sympathy and empathy of those being told the tale, What is more, her character was a precursor of the suffragette and feminist movements that were to come.

There would be few in the audience who would have been unfamiliar with the basic structure of the plot but it was pleasing to be re-introduced to the plot-lines that are often overlooked. Jane is an orphan brought up in an uncaring household and whisked off at an early age to Lowood – an institution with a harsh regime. She loses her best friend Helen Burns to illness but is encouraged and supported by Miss Temple.

This encouragement gives Jane the self-belief to spread her wings – she does not like tranquillity – and become governess at Thornfield Hall to Adele – the young ward of owner Rochester. Edward is an unhappy man who, despite his wealth and standing, finds it difficult to communicate his growing emotional attachment to his employee.

The pair eventually find the courage to declare their love for each other and set the date for their marriage. All seems set for the couple to walk hand-in-hand into the sunset but there is a major impediment to block the happiness. When this is brought into the open, hopes of a happy future are wrecked. Will Jane and Edward ever achieve their bliss? All is revealed in the closing stages.

The role of Jane is difficult to carry off effectively. It requires the actor to be both tough and tender and it is pleasing that Eleanor Sutton plays her part admirably. She shows a vitality to allow the character to pass through her troubles in early life to a maturity that sees her develop into a strong and independent character. The mature Jane is still feisty but has qualities loved by all. Sutton is also very believable as someone falling in love with a man who has some unpleasant characteristics.

Rochester is another multi-faceted character and is well-played by Sam Jenkins-Shaw who has the ability to progress his part from that of almost a caricature of a man who believes himself to be superior to all through to a person capable of loving and being loved. It is interesting to see the chemistry between the two leading characters develop and the proposal of marriage at the end of Act 1 is highly dramatic.

The remainder of the small company are also well cast and play multiple parts. Tomi Ogbaro is beautifully bombastic as Mr Brocklehurst, Nia Gandhi is good as the younger members Helen and Adele, Zoe West is lovely as the sympathetic Miss Temple and Sarah Groarke contrasts the bitterness of Mrs Reed and the helpfulness of Mrs Fairfax with aplomb. In addition, all cast members show their versatility by providing the musical and vocal accompaniment.

Zoe Waterman has produced a faithful and atmospheric version of this classic novel and has found space to insert comedic moments into a great drama. With a simple but effective set designed by Bronia Housman, lighting by Nao Nagai and a haunting score from Simon Slater, this production had the audience in the palm of its hands throughout. A classic love story has received the classic care it deserves.

The production continues until May 28th. For ticket information contact 01782 717962 or tickets@newvictheatre.org.uk