[Image by Brinkhoff/Moegenburg]
The Lowry, Salford Quays
Until Saturday 15th April, 2017
First published in 1847 under the pen name ‘Currer Bell’, Charlotte Brontë’s celebrated Bildungsroman has seen countless incarnations over the years, across a wide number of forms, though to label director Sally Cookson’s inspired, intricate stage production as a mere adaptation would be unfairly misrepresentative of what it ultimately achieves.
First staged at the the Bristol Old Vic in 2014 (in a two-part production), followed by a sell-out run in the National Theatre’s Lyttelton auditorium in 2015, this endearing new Old Vic and NT co-production – devised by the original company – is a real masterpiece; a dazzling, minimalist re-imagining of the source, choreographed with a remarkable fluidity, and bursting at the seams with theatrical innovation, imagination and irresistible charm.
Playing out on Michael Vale’s open, airy set design – featuring a backdrop of versatile white curtains and an immersive, multi-level, jungle-gym style centrepiece – Brontë’s trailblazing tale is as dynamic and inspiring as ever, accentuated by some superb lighting courtesy of Aideen Malone, Benji Bower’s intense orchestral score and exceptional performances from an accomplished 10-strong ensemble of actor-musicians.
Collectively they conjure up a wealth of indelible, sensory images, from the unnerving, devil red glow of ‘The Red Room’ to the cold, punishing confines of the Lowood Institution and the climactic burning of Thornfield Hall, superbly evoking the intense, psychological essence of the novel.
It is a visionary piece rendered with such precision and skill, remarkable in its overall scope and imbued with an intelligence that places Brontë’s central themes of morality, religion, atonement, feminism, social class and gender struggles very much at the fore.
Nadia Clifford does stirling work as Brontë’s headstrong, feminist heroine, beautifully conveying Jane’s impassioned journey from childhood to adulthood, never losing sight of the vulnerability that lies just beneath her sturdy outer shell. Clifford is more than a match for Tim Delap’s sturdy, Byronic, Mr. Rochester, who plays the role with a suitably detached intensity expected of the role.
Melanie Marshall uses her stirring rich mezzo to haunting effect as the production’s secret weapon, stalking the stage as a spectre, whose true identity is not revealed until later in the piece.
Strong performances from Hannah Bristow, Lynda Rooke, Evelyn Miller and Paul Mundell round-out the supporting cast, portraying some 13-characters combined, with Mundell’s delightful portrayal of Rochester’s trusty canine companion, Pilot, a particular highlight.
The use of music – and mostly live music (performed by Matthew Churcher, Alex Heane and David Ridley) – is certainly very powerful, though as clever as the orchestrations are, the use of contemporary songs just feels too out of place, jarring with the rest of the piece.
Combining aspects of Gothicism and romanticism to exceptional effect, Brontë’s distinctive Victorian novel lives and breathes as vigorously and energetically as ever thanks to a profound, exhilarating and unmissable production.
Running Time: 3 hours and 10-minutes (approx.), including one 15-minute interval.
Final Performance at The Lowry: Saturday 15th April, 2017.
For more information, and to book tickets, please Click Here.