Jane Eyre at the National Theatre

This week the National Theatre production of Jane Eyre is free to stream on YouTube (here). Jane Eyre is one of my favourite books ever and so I always love seeing how others interpret and adapt the book. I saw the play live on stage two years after this production was filmed during a tour through England in 2017 but with a different cast. I saw it once alone during a matinee and a few days later dragged my husband and kids with me to see it as well. Re-reading what I wrote then, I still agree with my impressions then. There were some points of criticism but every Jane Eyre adaptation has its little gripes for me. Those gripes don’t stop me from finding great things in the adaptations and I found this to be one of the best I have seen yet.

Madeleine Worrall plays Jane Eyre, Felix Hayes plays Rochester. The leads didn’t seem quite right when I saw the first images (Worrall seemed a bit too old to play Jane and Hayes didn’t seem dark enough) but I forgot all that as the play progressed. In the adaptation I saw on tour 3 years ago, I felt the actors looked better for their parts (younger and darker) but in the end it’s all about the intensity and it was there in this version as well as in the one I saw on stage in 2017. What I also loved was that the cast was quite small and it meant that (apart from Worrall) each actor played several characters within the story. Each character is distinctive enough for it to not be confusing and I also loved how even the dog Pilot was acted out in this play, a nice bit of comic relief. Even the musicians on stage (another awesome feature) became part of the cast on occasion.

Here’s a trailer:

Warning: pic spam ahead and spoilers for the story as well should you not know it!

All elements of the story are there in this adaptation as they should be. The story is after all not only a love story, it is a story of growing up, emancipation, strength of character, dealing with pain and loss, striving for freedom and finding your place in the world. Jane’s childhood experiences very much shape the young woman she is to become, so it’s good to see a good deal of time spent on her childhood, at first with the Reed family. She is tenacious, strong willed with a deep sense of right and wrong, and will not be trampled on even though her aunt is uncaring and her cousin bullies her. She likes to escape into reading and in her lonely life her only friend is Bessie, the maid.

The second half of her childhood is spent at Lowood institution. There is so much movement and choreography in this play and I love how they used movement to convey travel.

Lowood is a place of despair but Jane finds a little light for a little while in her friend Helen, whom she sadly also loses.

When she grows up she becomes a teacher at Lowood but yearns to be free. The cast not only play the pupils, they also on occasion play the voices in Jane’s head. I loved that as it felt true to the book where you constantly read all that Jane is thinking.

She advertises and comes to work at Thornfield Hall where she becomes a governess to Adele, the charge of a Mr. Rochester. Just pic spamming here now as she comes to know Adele and Mr Rochester and Mrs Fairfax the housekeeper…

She saves Mr Rochtester from a fire…

… and becomes jealous of Miss Ingram…

… and helps Rochester in a time of need which he thanks her for…

She may look grey and little but she shows a strength of character and steadiness that completely appeals to the gruff and wounded Rochester. She is his saviour although she does not know that yet. She leaves Thornfield for a bit (during the haggling for money part, which I always love, I wished for the “you shall walk up the pyramids of Egypt!” line but alas it wasn’t in there)…

She then returns but refuses to stay with Rochester other than on her own terms. She wants to be free.

Rochester finally confesses his feelings…

… and they almost marry despite Mr Rochester’s secret which he tries to keep hidden until after he has secured Jane.

Alas, the wedding is interrupted and that is always an extremely heartbreaking part of the story. After all of this hardship and strife the little happiness that was finally attained is cruelly lost again. Yes, the happiness was built on a lie and so had no chance of really thriving but it’s still sad. Jane stays strong and principled and Rochester must deal with the reality of his secret. Jane heartbreakingly leaves him, it is the only way.

After some more hardship she finds a new life with the Rivers family where she is content enough. However, she will not compromise her own feelings when St. John asks her to marry him, she will remain strong and true to herself no matter how difficult it is… Her tenaciousness of spirit, built up from her youth, remains intact.

Then on the wind from far away she hears Rochester call out for her…

Jane Eyre NT 2015 (220)

… and she returns to Thornfield Hall where she hears of the fire that burnt the place down and the death of the mysterious inhabitant there. The “Crazy” song that is sung here by the amazing Melanie Marshall (she also played this part in the 2017 tour!) and the way that part of the story is told, just gives me goosebumps.

The reunion of Jane and Rochester is of course beautiful…

… but the one thing I always miss in these adaptations is how Jane saves Rochester yet again at the end of the book, pulling him out of his dispair and feelings of worthlessness. The reunion part of the chapter is always there but I miss the rest of the chapter as well where she basically plays him so that he will come out of his self-pity. Oh well, there is no perfect adaptation out there although I have to say, this one does come close for me!

I also loved the use of music in this adaptation, from the musicians playing on stage to the role of singer Melanie Marshall as Bertha and as sometime narrator. The music is very evocative.

Let me end with a little video about how the whole play was devised, including an interview with Worrall and Hayes.

What I love about the Jane Eyre story is how Jane is always true to herself, believes she is worth something, sticks to what she feels is right and will not compromise on striving for her freedom and for what makes her happy. I love that she seems grey and hidden and Mr Rochester is the first one to finally see who she is in her glory. I love that, through finally being seen and finding an equal sparring partner, she starts to soar. Rochester helps her bloom and in turn she saves Rochester from his darkness. This adaptation brings Jane and Rochester to life though simple-looking staging, inventive choreography, wonderful music and great performances. I conveyed my enthusiasm in the live chat during the premiere live-stream this last Thursday on YouTube and even received a chat reply.

This play is a keeper (and very worth donating to should you feel so inclined).

59 thoughts on “Jane Eyre at the National Theatre

  1. Excellent discussion, Esther! I watched the first half of this last night and enjoyed it very much despite my qualms after seeing a clip (minimal set, Rochester not what I expected). This version is fast-moving and very intense. The portrayals of Jane and Edward are raw and even harsh at times, but it fits the passion in the story. With a stage drama, you expect something more challenging and interesting than another sedate costume drama, and with this, that’s what you get! I completely agree about the use of music (innovative and beautiful), and I LOVED the dog Pilot : )

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I so wondered what you as a Jane Eyre expert thinks and it’s lovely to know that you’ve been enjoying this too. ๐Ÿ™‚
      Yeah, stage drama is a another beast, very different from a movie and this gives a very full stage experience that I love. I had qualms about Rochester myself and in honesty the actor who played Rochester during the 2017 tour was closer in looks to how I imagine him than this Rochester was. And yet I did like this Rochester too, the intensity was all there. And Jane was all fierceness and emotion, I liked that too. Yeah, Pilot is brilliant!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for the compliment! I watched the second half and noticed, as you did, that quite a bit was cut from the ending. I thought that was unfortunate. They should have made the points that (1) Jane was an independent woman of means by then, and (2) that Rochester’s pride made him refuse her initially. Instead there was just the kiss. I also noticed that they changed the sex of the first child to a girl, but I was fine with that : )

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You’re my Jane Eyre guru. ๐Ÿ™‚
          Yeah, her independence and her basically saving Rochester from himself in the end didn’t come out that well but like you I didn’t mind the different sex of the child. It was a nice parallel with the beginning and so inventive how they used the coat in staging that.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Esther I plan on watching the play this weekend as now I am knee deep in S1 Anne With An E!! I see parallels already between Jane and Anne ๐Ÿ˜‰๐Ÿค—
    Thank you for a great review and peek into your live tweeting on Thursday!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, it’s all about strong young women overcoming adversity yet never forgetting their morality and humanity. ๐Ÿ™‚ Enjoy Anne and Jane later. Jane Eyre will only be available until next Thursday.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am half through, will tune in now for the 2nd part and I absolutely agree: what a gripping production! The music and especially Melanie Marshall is outstanding! Very atmospheric, goosebumps all around. At first sight I also thought the actress who plays Jane is too old though…

    Liked by 2 people

            1. Nellin excellent I confess Two Guvners would have been fabulous live when Corden plucks people from the audience but in my living room the physical slapstick stuff wore thin in the second half
              Corden was good in the show though!

              Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Serv, my personal documentalist. ๐Ÿ™‚ That was an interesting read.
      Personally, I’m more than fine if not that much emphasis is put on Jane’s religion in these adaptations but I do agree that her religious beliefs are a big source for her morals. To me her steadfast character and hard experiences in life however also cement why she is so principled. For me it’s not only her religion that makes it so.


  4. I liked a lot of things about this production, but not all.

    While I thought that Melanie Marshall’s vocals were outstanding, I actually didn’t find that the songs connected well with the story (except maybe Mad about the Boy and Crazy) and they often seemed to come from out of the blue. Actually, when I first sat down to watch it, I almost turned it off because I was put off by the “Wah! Wah!” of the adult Madeleine Worrall vocalizing herself as a baby. And I guess I would rather see a more traditional stage set in which to stage the action.

    That being said, I thought that both Madeleine Worrall and Felix Hayes were amazing and really well-cast. I didn’t even notice that Worrall wasn’t very young, as she played all ages very well. They had some really good chemistry together, and I thought that Hayes had just the right amount of gruffness, anger, and volatility, although maybe not quite enough despair and self-loathing. Their romance was to me very believable. (Actually, I found myself thinking that our man Armitage would be wonderful in the Rochester role as well.)

    I thought they did a very good job of moving through the years very convincingly, and I also really liked the choreography to convey the movement of the coach. And of course, Pilot was brilliant!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I give you that the baby crying at the beginning was a bit annoying but other than that I loved the music. ๐Ÿ™‚
      I also agree that Rochester didn’t have enough self-loathing.
      Unlike you I actually loved the non-traditional look of the set.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Sue, loved reading them. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It also may not have helped that my husband and younger son were watching Ford vs Ferrari in the other room… I had to keep turning it up to hear over the engine noises, and then the singing would come on and blast from the TV, then the car engines would be turned up louder, and so on!

        Liked by 2 people

              1. Servetus

                The whole “rough individualists vs. the corporate suits” conflict was added for dramatic effect. It wasn’t Shelby and Miles who developed the engine on their own against the people at Ford — it was a joint effort; Leo Beebe was not the *sshole he’s portrayed as in the film (his family is said to be incensed); and Miles agreed with the decision that ultimate deprived him of his name in the recordbooks at the end of the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans (which btw Enzo Ferrari didn’t attend). Shelby was the one who regretted that decision (Miles died not that long after the race). Shelby didn’t bet his business on Miles nor did Miles lock Henry Ford 2 in the office nor did Shelby take Ford on a ride (it was Miles) nor did Ford burst into tears.

                Liked by 2 people

              2. Isnโ€™t that so often the way now. The filmmakers donโ€™t seem to find the actual story interesting enough and then change so much. I actually havenโ€™t watched it… looks to much like a guyโ€™s buddy pic to me. But Iโ€™m not surprised. Sounds like you watched it. Did you enjoy it or did the license taken put you off?

                Liked by 1 person

              3. Servetus

                I felt like it’s the current American equivalent to all these films about 20th c. British war history that only show the British and filter out all the other people in the war. We can’t make films about how people work together successfully to achieve a goal, instead we write them about how the people who really understand anything are marginalized and then punished. A very Trump-era film in that sense.

                And yeah, I saw it — I took dad to it b/c I thought it was the kind of thing he would like. He watches a lot of auto racing on TV and he did enjoy it. I didn’t expect much, not especially liking any of the male leads, and then there was all this noisy car racing. I was astounded that it was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.

                Liked by 2 people

              4. My husband’s been trying to get me to watch it for a while. I don’t really like either of the two males leads, either. I was glad my son watched it with him. I think I’ll pass.

                Liked by 1 person

              5. Servetus

                One thing I appreciated about it is how the doc makes clear how important teamwork and cooperation is to the enterprise of auto racing — it’s not going to work if the team’s in conflict with each other (a la Ford v. Ferrari) — and how teamwork is the source of success. And of course Dale Earnhardt dies, probably in part because he’s such an aggressive jerk.

                Liked by 2 people

              6. That makes sense. I think it takes a whole team, to make it happen. It’s fascinating to watch the work done in the pit, how quickly they all work together!

                Liked by 2 people

              7. Sue for what itโ€™s worth the movie was very uplifting in many ways and both Damon and Bale were excellent and I might add Rocket Man had its creative license too so donโ€™t throw the baby out with the bath water ๐Ÿ˜‰

                Liked by 2 people

              8. I listened to the beginning a bit and it really didn’t appeal to me. The difference with Rocket Man was that it was billed as a fantasy, whereas I believe this is being billed as reality.


              9. Esther Iโ€™ll admit itโ€™s a bit too long for me, but the heart and soul of the movie is the bromance and I appreciate your other comment that movies based on true events have artistic license. I mean anyone can poke holes in any movie. It was not a movie I expected to enjoy and I did!

                Liked by 1 person

              10. Servetus

                The films aren’t really comparable in any meaningful way. I read Rocketman as “this is a musical version of the story Elton John told himself to get sober” and it’s compelling on that level (as well as the realization of how flexible the application of many of his lyrics can be outside their original context). It was also miles better than the Freddie Mercury film in terms of its honesty about both sex and drugs.


              11. Lots of artisitic licence taken, then. I haven’t seen the movie nor do I know anything about racing or the true story behind the movie. I was going to watch this sometime, if I do I will now know to take the story with a huge grain of salt. Then again, most movies based on true history are that way and not necessarily accurate.


              12. Servetus

                For me as a historian, it’s usually less about the errors per se (although there are some real doozies from time to time) than about what the errors reveal about the context of the film. “The Favourite” has a lot of “artistic license” in it, for example, and it was one of my favorite films of that year. It was a sendup of the whole genre of serious historic costume drama and a meditation on the nature of romantic and political power. “The Green Book” is a somewhat more superficially accurate film, but as I’m sure you remember I found it offensive for other reasons.

                Liked by 1 person

              13. I do remember. And you may be more kind to artistic licence in historical movies than my own husband (who is not a historian but loves history) is.


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