Culture critic Ruth Horsburgh is left disappointed by Son of a Preacher Man, a new jukebox musical based on the songs of Dusty Springfield.Written by Ruth Horsburgh on 14th September 2017
REVIEW: Jane Eyre at the REP
Culture critic Holly Reaney's skepticism of the show is put to bed with a "perfect adaptation" of the classic Brontë novel
Having spent six-months as part of my A-Levels, getting to know (and eventually growing very fond of) the tome that is Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, I was sceptical as to how it was going to be manifested on stage. However, Sally Cookson’s production of Jane Eyre manages to get deep under the skin of Jane’s character and expose the heart of the novel, effortlessly embodying Jane’s anguish, her sense of injustice and that characteristic passion. Brontë’s novel is renowned for its length, however, the play was expertly adapted to incorporate all major elements of plot and neatly concluded all narratives within the three-hour running time.
“One of the best pieces of stage-craft I have seen this year
A muted stage was paired with almost monochrome costume, save for Melanie Marshall’s vivid opulent red dress. Despite this character’s lack of spoken lines, her vibrancy makes her an eye-catching and dominating figure on the stage. The stripped back stage pushed the intimate company of actors to the forefront, and with no real props or fancy décor to hide behind, the actors flourished. Hurtling up and down the ladders, across platforms of various height, the actors created an infectious energy to the performance and united the various locations together to ensure the piece maintained a fabulous flow. Michael Vale’s set design was one of the best pieces of stage-craft I have seen this year; its simplicity reflected Jane’s humble origins, whilst the curtain walls on all sides of the stage created a claustrophobic sense of entrapment. These two factors encapsulate the entire essence of the novel.
Benji Bower’s live music (performed centre stage by Alex Hane, Matthew Churcher and David Ridley) not only carried the performance through its varying highs and lows, but was also vital in overcoming one of the major challenges that the adaption posed. The novel features a decent quantity of coach travel as well as the infamous horse in the initial meeting between Jane and Rochester. The use of one of many ladders easily solved the latter challenge; but for the former, the live musicians almost perfectly mimicked the clattering of tracks and announcement of stops, whilst the cast’s rhythmic stationary run channelled the fast paced movement - perfect bookends for sections of Jane’s story.
Melanie Marshall’s blues-style voice underpinned the entire performance, expressing the suffering of both her own character and of Jane. This drew an understated connection between the two, hinting towards a silent symbiosis. This was emphasised by the unexpectedly harrowing performance of Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 hit rap Crazy, which was performed with such a delicate sensitivity that it was barely recognisable.
There was no weak link in the intimate company, who worked together like a machine. Whilst most actors took the surely exhausting task of embodying on multiple roles, this channelled a strong energy resulting in an intense production. Particularly impressive performances came from Hannah Bristow, for the vast variety of personalities and accents which she effortlessly portrayed, and to Paul Mundell, whose embodiment of Pilot the dog was remarkable. Here, a decision that could have been farcical was in fact fabulously realised. He had a small tail which he hit against his leg with great vigour, creating a perfect illusion of a wagging tail. His bounding and sprawling across the stage made him the star of his scenes. Another commendable and unique aspect to this performance was several members of the cast doubling as Jane’s conscience, whose frenetic behaviour mirrored her thoughts and voiced her internal debates, buried passions and fears. When paired with the use of a booming voiceover, the immersion in Jane’s head was extremely disorientating and its sparing use ensured maximum impact.
“The raw emotion she projected was powerful
Nadia Clifford’s performance of Jane was heavily charged, and she perfectly struck the difficult balance between her feisty independence and ability to evoke sympathy from the audience. The raw emotion she projected was powerful, grounding the entire production. As Clifford quietly wiped her eyes whilst looking onto the standing ovation, the effort expended to achieve this difficult feat was evident. Tim Delap’s Mr Rochester was cool, though more likeable than some of the harsher film portrayals. Delap’s performance left no doubt as to the sincerity of Rochester’s feelings for Jane, a commendable achievement given the detached and aloof reputation with which the character is generally known.
Satisfyingly cyclical with both the first words and the last words of the performance being identical, the cast and creative team created a fabulous performance of which everyone involved should be immensely proud. A perfect adaptation.
Jane Eyre runs until 16th September, for more information visit: https://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/whats-on/jane-eyre.html