It is a tale of choosing happiness, discovering independence and succeeding on your own terms that still resonates today … 170 years after it was written.
Now, after a successful and critically acclaimed season at the National Theatre, the new adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre is coming to His Majesty’s Theatre.
Sally Cookson, the director of the new adaptation, which is a collaboration between Bristol Old Vic and the National Theatre, said: “I remember thinking while I read the novel: ‘This is a clarion cry for equal opportunities for women not a story about a passive female who will do anything for her hunky boss.’
“I was struck by how modern Jane seemed – her spirit and strong will, her peculiar and brilliant mind striving for personal freedom to be who she is, lashing out against any constraint that prevents her from being herself.”
Jane Eyre is not your usual love story.
It tells a tale of a woman discovering her own independence while being torn between doing what the society expects her to do, and what she really wants.
Jane inhabited a Victorian world where her success depended on her attraction as a prospective bride.
And while, at the end of the story, Jane marries Edward Rochester, a wealthy man with a dark secret, it is on her own terms.
Nothing spells this out more clearly than the famous quote from the book: “Reader, I married him.”
It was a sentence that shocked the world in 1847, when the novel was first published; particularly because at that time, the only socially acceptable way to say she wed Rochester was: “Reader, he married me.”
Sally Cookson believes the reason readers and audiences of all ages still find the coming-of-age story fascinating is because it deals with “all the things we still find ourselves struggling with.”
“The intensity of the novel’s search for identity is something we have all experienced,” she said.
Brontë’s novel is still relatable because it highlights the importance of seeking one’s own happy endings, not settling down for what you were born into.
In her powerful speech, which still resonates, Jane says: “I am no bird and no net ensnares me. I am a free human being with an independent will.”
The National Theatre adaptation is performed by seven actors and three musicians.
Every actor, except for the one who portrays Jane, plays more than one character and is on stage for most of the time.
Sally said she did not want to approach the classic 19th century novel as a piece of costume drama.
“I was keen to explore the themes and get to the heart of the story and characters in a theatrical way.
“I didn’t want authentic set and period costume to suffocate it, killing the essence and magic of the story.”
The director highlighted the importance of the set design: “The set – which is a wooden structure made up of platforms, ramps and ladders – illustrates the physical and emotional struggle Jane encounters as she develops from a child into an independent woman.”
The music is also very important to the show with the band placed in the centre of the set.
Benji Bower, the show’s composer, decided to use different music genres including jazz, pop as well as folk to create an appropriate atmosphere for each scene.
The play is focused more on the coming-of-age aspects of the novel rather than the Jane/Rochester relationship.
The show can be seen from next Monday at His Majesty’s Theatre.