“READER, I married him,” from Jane Eyre is one of the most famous lines in literature — and it’s notably absent from Sally Cookson’s adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s novel.
As a brave statement of intent, it signals a break from tradition and it’s entirely justified in this reappraisal of the classic work in an experimental National Theatre production combining period dress with a contemporary stage design and live music.
The focus shifts shifts away from the relationship of “obscure, plain and little” Jane with Rochester. Instead, the emphasis is on independence and her cry of: “I must have my liberty!”
That desire for freedom is represented by a series of window frames that dangle from the ceiling, their shutters barring her escape until, in the closing scenes, they finally shatter open.
One person who does have freedom of a kind throughout the play is Bertha, Rochester’s mad wife, who has escaped from the attic to become a near continual presence on stage.
Her thoughts, and those of Jane, are expressed through song as Melanie Marshall provides jazzy interpretations of Mad About the Boy and Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy.
If she’s mad, then so too are the other characters, in a state of constant flux during an episodic production.
Cast members run on the spot to indicate a carriage, Nadia Clifford’s Jane scampers across designer Michael Vale’s wooden scaffolding while asking question after question and pupils rhythmically run through lessons by rote.
Indeed, its almost comes as a relief when Rochester’s dog Pilot (a wonderfully expressive Paul Mundell) flops on the floor to rest and wag its cord tale .
Amalgamated from a previous two-part show, the production is lengthy at three hours but each scene, infused with energy and bold reimaginings of the original story, never fails to grab the attention.
Tours until September 23 and then returns to the National Theatre in London, details: nationaltheatre.org.uk