Jane Eyre at the National Theatre

Yesterday was a trip to that there Lunnon.

It was a cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of year,

For a journey, and such a long journey.

Our camels were not galled, sorefooted, or refractory, but the ways were deep and the weather was sharp. (T. S. Eliot)

Also, the road works, which is something the Magi never really had to deal with. Although I’d like to see how a bad tempered camel got to grips with the council digging up the junction of Baker Street and Marylebone Road, half of Victoria, and a large part of Parliament Square. I think we gave him a run for his money mood-wise.

We were, as ever, wending our way to the National Theatre, one of the places you must be sure to check for me if I ever run away from home.

Thanks to roadworks and roadworks and roadworks and a near miss with a deranged cabby, we made it with only forty minutes to spare, and were forced to abandon our usual luncheon (Wagamamas) for the new National cafe.

I would like to say it was lovely, but I had the most spectacularly awful salt beef bagel of my life for an eye-wateringly huge sum of £4. I was particularly unimpressed that the £4 had been spent turning the bagel into what resembled a breeze block sprinkled with poppy seeds. For my second literary allusion of the day I was drawn to think dark thoughts about the permanence of Dwarf Bread.

Luckily, in the midst of all my poetic gloom, the play was an absolute joy to behold.

We saw Jane Eyre, which was originally developed and performed at Bristol Old Vic, and is now enjoying a successful run at the National. It must be hoped that it tours, because everyone should see it.

It is, I believe, going to be available to see as an NTLive production some time in December. I am going to see it again then, which should tell you everything you need to know.

I generally avoid any play which attempts to sandwich an entire Victorian triple decker novel into three hours. My experiences of such attempts have always left me weeping, either with tears of laughter or pain, or sometimes both. It has never been good. Until now.

The stage set was rather like a series of tree houses, without the trees. There is a lot of scaffolding and ramps and wooden platforms. You have to use your imagination, and if you do and you can, you are in for a treat.

The cast is fantastic. Jane is not beautiful and willowy. She is strong and small and angry. Her hair is a mess, her outfits are not graceful. Her demeanour is one of resistance against everything life throws at her. She is pissed off, and rightly so. You end up wanting to stand and cheer her on from the stalls.

Rochester is petulant and difficult. He is charming in that bristling, aggressive way that makes you want to slap him and snog him in equal measure. I particularly liked the fact that he seemed bewildered by himself and his ability to sabotage everything he tried to do. It was some acknowledgement that he was an arse, which made it much easier to see why Jane loved him.

Special mention goes to the chap who played Pilot, Rochester’s dog. He was amazing.

Also the woman who played Bertha Mason was stunning. Instead of making her sinister and gothic macabre, she was quiet and blank, and then she sang (the piece was beautifully scored by an on stage band), and when she sang it was the most unearthly beautiful thing I have ever heard. It made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It was amazing.

The whole thing was clever and creative and well thought out. It made sense of the text in the context of a stage and it worked really well at bringing the old and new world together in a way that made the entire story accessible.

It made the trip worthwhile.

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