Reviewed by Angela Paull
Last night we went to the Mayflower to see the Bristol Old Vic/National Theatre’s production of Jane Eyre. The Mayflower is in the heart of Southampton and surrounded by numerous car parks (I always use Grosvenor Place as it has a flat rate of £2 between 6pm and midnight). The staff are always helpful and friendly and there is a restaurant, snack kiosk and bars on site, so everything you could possibly need under one roof!
We had fabulous seats in the stalls with a great view of the stage. The set was essentially a series of steps and ladders with an area for a band. Clearly this was going to be a very modern interpretation of the well-known tale!
The production follows the life of Jane Eyre from an orphan, taken in but unwanted by her aunt, via schooldays at Lowood and finally to her employment as a governess. Most people, even if they do not know the story already, probably think of Jane Eyre as a love story but this production focuses more on Jane’s constant struggle to find purpose and meaning to life. She feels starved of love and recognises that a person needs nurturing to achieve their best. She strives to challenge herself and break down barriers.
Of course, the tale does develop into a love story as she falls for her employer, the irascible Mr Rochester but yet there is a mysterious presence in his house that leaves her uneasy. On their wedding day, she learns the truth of his existing marriage and that the strange presence is his mad wife who has been locked away and kept a secret.
Jane flees and is offered the chance of another marriage and a fulfilling life as a missionary in India but her heart remains with Rochester. She returns to find that his wife has set fire to his home (via some very convincing effects) and that he has been blinded trying to, unsuccessfully, save her from the blaze.
The production has a real sense of musicality about it and the cast move so fluidly amongst the myriad of ladders and steps that it’s almost like watching a perfectly choreographed dance routine at times. Nadia Clifford is on stage the entire time, with costume changes taking place on stage whilst the action unfolds, and makes a most convincing Jane. You feel every unfairness that she experiences and are effortlessly drawn in to her emotional turmoil. Tim Delap broods as Rochester, a man tortured and burdened by the secrets he is keeping and Melanie Marshall shines as mad Bertha Mason. Her renditions of “Mad About the Boy” and “Crazy” were pitch perfect highlights of the second act.
Special mention also has to be made of Paul Mundell who provided some much-needed comic relief as Pilot the dog, possibly the most enthusiastic hound ever!
This really was a treat for the senses, visually the lighting was stark yet stunning, the musical pieces completely appropriate and haunting at times. The simplicity of the set allowed the performances to shine and whilst there was a clear Victorian sense it did not wallow in period detail. Given that this is a 3-hour production it’s quite an achievement to hold an audience’s attention for this long yet my mind never wandered as there was always something compelling happening on stage. The cast should also be congratulated as there was a technical hitch in the first half which meant leaving the stage and the curtain coming down for a while. However, despite the unplanned break they seamlessly slipped back into their roles.
A really excellent interpretation of a literary classic it easily scores 5/5.
Tickets cost from £12.50 to £34.50 (booking fees may apply).
Jane Eyre is at the Mayflower Theatre in Souithampton from 9-13 May 2017, for more information or to book tickets visit www.mayflower.org.uk or call the box office on 02380 711811.
Mayflower Theatre, Commercial Road, Southampton, SO15 1GE | 02380 711811