The REP, Birmingham, Monday 4th September, 2017
The REP’s new season gets off to a flying start with this highly-acclaimed production from the National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic. Adapted from Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel by the original cast, this is a faithful and spirited retelling with a heightened sense of theatricality – without breaking the fourth wall.
On a sparse set of steps, ladders and walkways, the story plays out with director Sally Cookson conjuring up locations, weather, time of day and setting, mainly through her actors, and enhancing effects through judicious use of sound and lighting effects. What we get is a wealth of invention and creativity that allows the power of the tale to come through.
The eponymous Jane (an indefatigable Nadia Clifford, who doesn’t seem to leave the stage) is orphaned, abused and neglected as a child but never loses her sense of right and wrong or her tendency to speak out. Her employment as governess to the ward of Mr Rochester at last exposes her to love and life – and the pains that they can bring. Clifford is a formidable presence, although tiny, she gives voice to Jane’s outbursts; we have no choice but to be on her side through all her tribulations. Tim Delap is an eccentric Rochester, grumpy and mercurial, yet somehow dashing and irresistible. The other cast members come and go as supporting characters: Lynda Rooke’s cruel Aunt Reed contrasts with her kindly Mrs Fairfax; Evelyn Miller provides Jane with rare warmth and friendship as Bessie and then swanks around as the worldly Blanche Ingram. Special mention must go to Melanie Marshall’s haunting vocals as the unfortunate Bertha Mason, but it is Paul Mundell who almost steals the show as Rochester’s dog, Pilot!
Theatricality is maximised for greatest effect: Jane’s travels are energetically depicted – even the act of opening a window is stylishly presented. The melodramatic elements of Charlotte Bronte’s narrative are all there, with contemporary music highlighting the modernity of the story. The inclusion of standards like Mad About The Boy is both clever and apt, but no less effective is Benji Bower’s original score.
A real feat of theatre that breathes new life into an old story, the perfect marriage of form and content, Jane Eyre charms, amuses and touches in all the right places. Even if the three-hour running time (extended by a delayed second act on this occasion!) numbs the bum a little bit, your head and your heart will think the time is flying by.
Theatregoer, I married him. Tim Delap as Rochester and Nadia Clifford as Jane. (Photo: Brinkhoff-Mogenburg)
Leave a comment | tags: Benji Bower, Bristol Old Vic, Charlotte Bronte, Evelyn Miller, Jane Eyre, Lynda Rooke, Melanie Marshall, Nadia Clifford, National Theatre, Paul Mundell, review, Sally Cookson, The REP Birmingham, Tim Delap | posted in Theatre Review
The REP, Birmingham, Monday 8th May, 2017
A young girl from a poor family is sold by her mother to an itinerant circus strongman. He is a brute who beats his new assistant until, gradually, her own talents emerge. Together they join a circus but rivalry with another performer leads to tragedy…
That’s the plot in a nutshell. Based on the Oscar-winning Fellini film, this touring production is a slick and stylised slice of storytelling. It begins in a style reminiscent of ancient Greek theatre, with a chorus and a lone actor working in unison but as the story unfolds the show develops into a piece that could have come from Emma Rice’s back catalogue. The performance style screams ‘Kneehigh’, with its onstage musicians underscoring the action, the movement sequences and the mythic quality of the narrative. This is not a bad thing, being a Kneehigh tribute act – the plot and performers are engaging and the original music (by Benji Bower) infuses the whole affair with melancholy as well as Italian colour.
Audrey Brisson is excellent as the young Gelsomina, a deadpan little thing, Chaplinesque in her portrayal. Stuart Goodwin’s bluff and brutish Zampano, a man led by his appetites, is an imposing figure but human rather than monstrous. Bart Soroczynski amazes as the Fool, playing a mean accordion while riding a unicycle.
The whole ensemble switches from symbolic action to direct characterisations so seamlessly you don’t see the changes of costume happen – director Sally Cookson keeps us tightly focussed on the main action and makes the most of clever ideas with which to tell the story: a spot of rain is cleverly depicted, and slow-motion action highlights key moments. It’s a romanticised, nostalgic view of life on the road and poverty yet at its heart is the humanity of the characters.
The entire piece is beautifully theatrical, bittersweet and touching, an intricate music box that fascinates and delights.
Audrey Brisson as Gelsomina (Photo: Robert Day)
Leave a comment | tags: Audrey Brisson, Bart Soroczynski, Benji Bower, Fellini, La Strada, review, Sally Cookson, Stuart Goodwin, The REP Birmingham | posted in Theatre Review