Jayne Eyre | Theatre Review
Grand Opera House • 21 August ’17
By Conor O’Neill
The GOH is looking splendid tonight. We all know how to describe what it normally looks like before a show comes to town, but tonight it doesn’t quite look like that. Pure white, overly casually creased and billowing drapes hanging fifty feet long surround the stage; left; right and to the back, turn to red – the dreaded Red Room – then black and red and back to black before returning to white exude emotion like only knowing simplicity can achieve. Just three colours are used during this urethra nipping show. Not a diagonal in sight adds to the stern severity of what we are made to believe 19th century English society was like. No fluffiness is allowed and par for course horizontals and verticals are everywhere the eye can see, probably a nod to the tight seize of social mobility post feudal England allowed back in the day.
Rough, hewn planks of oak stand gallow-like, supporting not only the weight of actors but the places we find our heroine travel to and from. The starkness and complexity of these angular structures somehow achieve a stable rigidity and solemn nobility the characters can only hope for. If the set was to be achieved by a pop band only Joy Division or Kraftwerk would receive the commission and on further inspection would probably turn it down. A tier, a runway, ladders everywhere come into their own as the setting shifts from country lanes to boarding houses, Lowood school for orphans, Thornfield House, Morton, from where the coast to India calls, plus the church were a marriage cannot and will not happen gives the viewer an austere formality last seen in a Meccano advert. Set designer Michael Vale’s eye and protractor are spot on.
As the multitude gather their Chardonnays (it was that sort of genteel audience in tonight) and get seated, a curious eye will note the upright piano, a tight little drum-kit, a double bass, an organ and an acoustic guitar. The musicianship is top notch. What more do we need?
Well a plot would be handy, wouldn’t it? Thought I was trying to avoid that didn’t you? Well, let’s get started. A bastard – Bronte’s word, not mine – child gets done over by the dreaded Reeds, spends a while under their cruel tutelage before getting shoved off to school in order to provide her with an education in order to better herself and make her way in the world. But as well as a shy, retiring wallflower of a runt, of which lead Nadia Clifford plays with excellence, we see her grow to become, Miss Jayne Eyre, the Governess. Move over Germaine Greer, stop cutting up men Valerie Solanas, and forget about being the first Iron Lady Mrs Thatcher: here we meet the first feminist of modern times; the prototype of all great female lead characters to follow on in film and stage. This lady is not for fainting.
Despite her tiny physical demeanour, Jane has an enduring love of books, knowledge and righteousness, and a steely spine to match. When thrown against the world, she can only but strive to survive; survive she does. Rescuing her employer from a fire started by the secret upstairs, picking up languages like no-one’s business; while stealing the heart of silver-spooned misfit Tim Delap’s Rochester along the way will lead to the first of two of the most ridiculous marriage proposals ever to be seen outside Jeremy Kyle’s stage. Delap’s presence, even when he’s not on stage sporting a beard Grizzly Adams would be proud of, is testament to his talent. Pastor Rivers, a clergy man begs and pleads for her dainty knuckle-duster hand pleading it’s not ‘Not he she is turning down, but God himself’. Deities rejected this gothic tale is as convoluted yet equally mesmerising a story as you will ever follow. Pilot, the dog, played by Paul Mundell, woofs and wags his way to a fro; Melanie Marshall’s narrator and sometimes Bertha’s vocal capabilities will leave you stunned, she stands out through sheer brilliance. Apart from the mains, Evelyn Miller’s multiple roles as servant Bessie, pastor Sinjin Rivers, and then the dreaded Blanch Ingram along with Hannah Bristow’s Abbot, Grace Poole, the tragic Helen Burns, impetuous Adele and Diana Rivers gathers momentum before the final reveal.
And revealing it is. If ever a story and show was deserving of the Opera House’s boards, this is it. Fab night, just be prepared for the long haul, both time wise and emotionally. Director Sally Cook has a ton to be proud of.
All 800 plus guests stand in ovation as the curtain drops.
Jayne Eyre run from August 21 – August 26. For booking details, show times and other info visit www.goh.co.uk or phone the box office on 02890 241919