I’ve never read the book but, like most people (I suspect), I knew its general scenario and the main characters. With son-in-law Felix playing the role of Rochester, I suppose I should have made an effort to read the book before seeing Sally Cookson’s outstanding, magical, two-part production… but I didn’t. In the event, I absolutely didn’t need to… the production, the wonderful set design, the stunning music and the hugely impressive cast TOLD the story of the book.Quite brilliantly.
The play was devised over an eight week period by the company - an accomplishment I find pretty impressive in itself. I’ve seen a number of productions by Sally Cookson and each one has been extraordinary. I therefore went along to the Old Vic filled with a sense of both expectation and confidence, KNOWING that I wasn’t going to be disappointed… and yet, also knowing that I was going to be surprised and challenged (in a good way!).
As Cookson wrote in her programme notes: “I didn’t want loads of authentic set and period costume to suffocate the story so that it became a dinosaur of a piece, killing the magic of the story”.
Well, she certainly didn’t!
I won’t even begin to describe Michael Vale’s set (because, if you’re intending to see the production, I don’t want to spoil things for you), but it was quite breathtaking… visually remarkable and yet also practical and logical at the same time. And, if I had told you beforehand that music would be a crucially important part of the play, it might have put you off completely and convinced you to sell your tickets (“Jane Eyre, The Musical”? Really?). But, again, I’ve seen (and heard) a number of shows featuring Benji Bower as the composer and musical director and, so, just KNEW it was going to be ok. This proved to be an understatement – the music and, in particular, the exceptional voice of Melanie Marshall (as Bertha Mason) was simply magical.
The production emphasises the telling of a “life story” rather than “just a love story” – charting Jane’s childhood and her development into adulthood before we ever confront Edward Rochester. Identity is a key element and Jane comes across as a strong, unapologetic and determined woman.
Madeleine Worrall gives a breathtaking, mesmerising performance as Jane and, I might be a little biased (OF COURSE I’m a little biased!!), I thought Felix’s Rochester was just wonderful – dry, cutting, grumpy and vulnerable.
A truly remarkable production. As the Old Vic’s Theatre Director, Tom Morris, says of Sally Cookson in his programme notes (addressing prospective members of the audience): “You are in the company of a unique theatre-making talent, and we should be proud that she is reaching the height of her powers here in Bristol”.
Photo (courtesy Bristol Old Vic website): Felix Hayes as Rochester and Madeleine Worrall as Jane.
PS: Moira+I saw Part 1 on 12 March and Part2 on 18 March.