And so to that part of the National Theatre that is relayed via digital magic to the Bexhill seafront to catch a performance of a two-night Bristol Old Vic adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s novel that has now been compressed into a mere three hours of single night stage time. We enjoyed a picnic and people watching, and also the show before us – but weren’t quite so much in raptures as the press pack have been.
There is a lot to like in Sally Cookson’s production. The set, which at first seems clever for the sake of it, is effective and smartly used. The characters sometimes face out, sometimes act more naturally. The combinations are effecting. Actors play multiple roles up to and including the dog, Pilot who is magnificently brought to anthropomorphic life by Craig Edwards. Madeleine Worrall takes us through the stages of Jane’s development from unloved orphan to governess and beyond. Felix Hayes booms melodiously as Rochester. The cast are joined on stage by a musican and singers – a full gesamtkunstwerk this almost – and Melanie Marshall’s beautiful interpretation of modern songs adds, rather than takes away, from the whole.
There is no final “Reader, I married him”, which if, like me, is all you know about the book, is a bit disappointing. The early stages of Jane’s life also have a ring of dogma rather than drama. I’d guess that’s where the biggest cuts between Bristol and London have come. What remains though is an engaging, feminist take that is always compelling and, that rare thing, a show that makes three hours watching a big TV screen in Bexhill seem like a mostly splendid way of spending time.