The show is faithful to Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece Jane Eyre, says Tim Delap who plays Rochester to Nadia Clifford’s Jane.
But it is also unfaithful to the novel – in the very best way, he says.
“Putting a classic on the stage is very difficult because the book stands up in its own right,” says Tim, who tours with Jane Eyre to Southampton’s Mayflower from Monday-Saturday May 8-13.
“But what the director Sally Cookson and the creative team have done is take the spirit of the novel and the passion of Jane and turn them into a theatre event. The way we tell the story on stage is a way that you could only tell a story in a theatre.”
The show is a National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic production.
“The history of the show is that it started at the Bristol Old Vic, with the original cast and the creative team devising it from the novel. It was an enormous hit and it moved to the National where it was another five-star hit, and then the National decided to tour it.
“The original cast had done it for nearly three years by then, and Sally and the cast felt it was time to move on and bring in a new cast. I am part of that. We started at the beginning of April. We opened in Manchester and played to packed-out houses and then we moved on to Sheffield. The response has been great.
“There is maybe an added pressure that the show has been so successful. We feel like the original cast set the bar incredibly high, but at the same time what has been brilliant about Sally and the creative team is that they have made us feel from the word go that it is ours. They have been really insistent that this is new casting and that we will bring to it what we instinctively bring in terms of energy. We have been given ownership of it, and it still felt very much like a collaborative process.
“Some people might think it would have been useful to see the original, and I had heard amazing things about it and always intended to go, but I was doing other jobs. I can remember trying to see it and not managing… but actually that is brilliant now. I was able to come to it totally fresh without memories of other actors.
“In the book and in the play, Rochester is described as not a villain, but as a sinner. He has made a lot of mistakes in his life. But he feels like his life has dealt him a pretty bad deal. But I think what is so brilliant about Charlotte Bronte is that she was ahead of her time. She was really writing about the constraints on Jane and on women in the 19th century, but Rochester is also a product of similar constraints in society. There were so many barriers to being who you could be, that you had to behave in a certain way. Jane was incredibly constrained. There was no equality. But so too was Rochester…”
The production was devised by the original company, with set designs by Michael Vale, costumes by Katie Sykes, lighting by Aideen Malone, music by Benji Bower, sound by Mike Beer, movement by Dan Canham and dramaturgy by Mike Akers.
Director Sally Cookson said: ‘Adapting a novel for the stage is a challenging prospect - especially when that novel is cited as many people’s favourite of all time. It is always daunting when you’re working on a story which everyone knows so well, because you want to surprise and maybe challenge people’s expectations, without losing any of the things which make them like the story in the first place.’
“I chose this particular title because it’s a story that I love and have enjoyed a close relationship with ever since I was intrigued, as a child, by Orson Welles’ black and white melodrama with fabulous music by Bernard Herrmann.’
‘I didn’t actually read the novel until I was in my early twenties and I remember thinking while I read it: ‘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. She was exactly the sort of person I wanted to be.”