Jane Eyre 'forgets to develop a coherent and dramatic focus' (2 stars)

Jane Eyre 'forgets to develop a coherent and dramatic focus'

credit: Brinkhoff Moegenburg

A disappointing adaptation of the romantic classic

Director Sally Cookson's ambition to draw out Jane Eyre's proto-feminist energy is reflected in her attention to the detail of Jane's upbringing and adventures beyond her romance with Mr Rochester. Her resistance to religious oppression, and willingness to transcend the bitterness of her aunt promises a relevant romanticism. Sadly the production becomes an exercise in storytelling that exposes the dubious morality of the nineteenth century without addressing it.

Using a style familiar from other large scale adaptations – such as Kneehigh's RebeccaJane Eyre mixes a live musical score and physical theatre interludes, with an ensemble switching between roles. This allows the production to cover large swathes of the narrative, but does not lend itself to either dramatic set-pieces or deeper reflections. Christianity is given a contemporary critique – God, says Jane, is a loving tyrant and His agents are hypocritical or passive-aggressive – and Jane herself is feisty. Yet a key concern – how acceptable is it for a man to lock his mentally ill wife in the attic until she conveniently kills herself? – is never questioned.

The liveliness of the cast and the moments of inventions – such as when the ensemble become Jane's interior monologue – are undermined by the number of flaccid scenes and stock characters, as well as the set's disappointing flat-pack aesthetic. In attempting to broaden Jane's story, and add it a modern edge, the National Theatre/Bristol Old Vic collaboration forgets to develop a coherent and dramatic focus.

Seen at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre. Jane Eyre tours the UK until September.

Jane Eyre

  • Directed by: Sally Cookson
  • Written by: Charlotte Bronte (book), Mike Akers (adapt)

Sally Cookson directs this bold re-imagining of Charlotte Bronte's novel about a spirited heroine's fight for freedom and fulfilment on her own terms in the face of poverty, injustice and bitter betrayal. A National Theatre co-production with Bristol Old Vic.