Jane Eyre at the Bristol Old Vic – Pt 2

“I can’t understand why this isn’t packed,” said the lady next to me, who was having a fabulous night. “I’m going to tell all my friends to come!”

We were at the Bristol Old Vic, watching the second and final part of Sally Cookson’s Jane Eyre.

In the first show we were introduced to plain, small, defiant Jane Eyre, brilliantly played by Madeleine Worrall. Jane has a vigorous spirit, and to understand where it comes from the first show had to cover a lot of back story. With that out of the way, this second show is much tighter, shorter and more explosive.

The half before the interval is a rollercoaster of tension and drama. This part is mostly a two-hander (except for a brief detour back to Jane’s family home) with the focus on Jane and Rochester’s relationship until the final devastating reveal of Rochester’s wife Bertha.

Cookson has said that she intends her Jane to be a feminist icon; she is a spirited young woman who is determined to find her own way in the world. I’m not sure if I’d ever read her that way, but I certainly felt the truth of it in this exchange:

Felix Hayes (Rochester) Madeleine Worrall (Jane), by Simon Annand“You are inexorable for that unfortunate lady,” Jane says, speaking about Bertha. “You speak of her with hate. It is cruel – she cannot help being mad.”

“Jane, it is not because she is mad I hate her. If you were mad, do you think I should hate you?”

“I do indeed, sir.”

Jane must leave Thornfield, not because Rochester has a wife, but because he locked her up.

The second half was a much more subdued affair, with Jane once again fending for herself in the big bad world, and also fending off the lukewarm advances of a clergyman. But “she is no bird and no net ensnares her” – she decides to follow her heart and return to Rochester. Their final reunion, and the close of the show, is very touching.

Once again, the soundscape and music were marvellous and the simple set design is remarkably effective. I really enjoyed the show and was genuinely moved by many parts of it. It might be more successful if it were condensed into one long show and it would be nice if Felix Hayes’ Mr Rochester could deliver the occasional line in something less than a shout. Although I wasn’t particularly enamoured of the dog or Adele, the people around me thought they were delightful and I found myself laughing along with them. By the end, I really wanted to go and hang out with the cast and I had delusions of running into them at the pub (I didn’t).

All in all, if you find yourself in Bristol with a spare two evenings, I highly recommend getting along to watch Jane Eyre, particularly if you’re a friend of the lady I was sitting next to.

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Nat Newman

Nat Newman is an award-winning writer of short stories, content, podcasts, feature articles, drunk text messages and, soon, a novella.

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