From the moment she comes bawling into life at the opening of director Sally Cookson's delirious staging of Charlotte Bronte's taboo-busting novel, the adventures keep on coming for its eponymous heroine. On designer Michael Vale's set of wooden platforms and catwalks, Nadia Clifford's furious Jane is shunted from pillar to post in a show as restless in its execution as Jane's own journey. Her brutalised childhood as an orphan hungry for knowledge is illustrated by a cast of nine, who morph from bullying family members to religiously oppressed pupils of the school where Jane is exposed to even more of life's cruelties.
Mirrors are held up en masse so Jane can confront herself inbetween attending to her inner voices that drive her onwards. As she grows into a still wilful young woman, her self-protective shell gives way under Rochester's mercurial influence, until at the end of act one she crumbles into a defeated heap, crazy in love but not knowing what to do with her feelings.
Bronte's constant theme of how independent women are locked up is made explicit. This is done both by the scarlet lighting that illustrates Jane's early incarceration, and in the operatic gospel sung by Melanie Marshall as Bertha, the first Mrs Rochester. This is pointed up even more by Benji Bower's live chamber jazz score and a couple of knowing contemporary pop numbers.
Originally spread out over two nights in its first outing at Bristol Old Vic in 2014, this current tour follows the show's National Theatre run by serving up a single three hour sprawl through Jane's psyche. The end result is a fearless and unmissable whirlwind of a show.
The Herald, May 17th 2017