THE Sally Cookson directed, company-devised adaptation of Jane Eyre, first seen at Bristol two years ago in its two-part, four-and-a-half-hour version, has been abridged to three hours plus, and has been enthralling audiences at the National Theatre in recent months.
Now it is back in Bristol until 6th February, and those with good memories and keen eyes can see the seamless nips and tucks that have brought this astonishing and indelible production to a wider audience.
Staged on a multi-level wooden frame of ladders, steps and ramps, this is physical theatre at its very best. Travel is depicted at a run, including the audience in the journey, as the orphaned Jane is taken from foster home to Lowwood school and on to Thornfield House.
The brilliant and sometimes febrile reimagining takes the audience into the story of Charlotte Bronte’s determined heroine as her friends, family, supporters and adversaries whirl in and out of her life. There is even Pilot the bounding dog – a faithfully observed performance by Craig Edwards.
Laura Elphinstone repeats her versatile performances as the sickly orphan Helen Burns, French ward Adele, missionary St John Rivers, taciturn Grace Poole and more, and Simone Saunders is back as a Bessie with an authentic Tyneside accent, the sophisticated Blanche Ingram and devoted sister Diana Rivers.
Maggie Tagney is as loveable as Mrs Fairfax as she is hateful as Mrs Reed, and live music comes from the Bower Brothers, Benji and Will, and Phil King.
And woven throughout the performance is the unforgettable singing of Melanie Marshall, who also does a chilling turn as the mad Mrs Rochester.
This Bristol Old Vic production distills the complex novel, providing all the excitement of the Big Moments (including a stage ablaze) but also capturing the nuances and asides that underline its timelessness.
See it if you can – a few tickets remain,