Madeleine Worrall (Jane)
Madeleine Worrall (Jane)
© Simon Armitage

Sally Cookson's two part adaptation of Jane Eyre at Bristol Old Vic opened to strong reviews last week (20 February) with critics particularly impressed with Benji Bower's ‘dazzling score' and Madeleine Worrall's ‘powerful' performance in the title role, though some have questioned its excessive length. Jane Eyre will run at BOV until 29 March.

Kris Hallett, WhatsOnStage, 4 Stars

The two parts Jane Eyre at Bristol Old Vic is big, bold programming on the part of the always adventurous Bristol Old Vic….Sally Cookson's devised adaptation…puts one in mind of previous successful book adaptations such as the RSC's Nicholas Nicklebly. If it doesn't quite hit the scales of that work, its not through lack of ideas and vision, ultimately it boils down to a need for a firm snip on script…With a hardworking cast of just seven and three musicians (who also sometimes step into the acting arena) there is a lot of thrilling, alchemical work going on…Benji Bower's simply superlative score,… With Marshall's breathtaking vocals, swooping and haunting in equal measure, I doubt you'll be able to find a better musical score anywhere….Madeleine Worrall is superb as Jane… You leave feeling that Cookson will soon enough deliver us a stage masterpiece for the 21st century. Though Jane Eyre isn't quite it…the amount of joy, exuberance and invention at large ensures this day in the theatre is nothing if not well spent.

Lyn Gardner, The Guardian, 4 Stars

Sally Cookson's two-part four-and-a-half-hour devised staging of Charlotte Brontë's mid-19th-century novel is no plain Jane…. At its centre is Madeleine Worrall's Jane...It is a remarkable performance of startling modernity and unaffected honesty…You can say much the same of the entire show, which suffers from an occasional loss of energy in the pacing but is marked by an attention to storytelling and consistent invention….Craig Edwards puts a comic wag in the tail of Rochester's loyal dog …Benji Bower's dazzling score and arrangements, delivered with soaring purity by Melanie Marshall....The show is at its best when it is most surprising… This feels like a real ensemble. Perhaps Felix Hayes isn't quite given the opportunity needed to develop Rochester beyond the traditional 19th-century romantic antihero, but Laura Elphinstone seizes her chances... It's a marathon…but one of wistful textured beauty that reveals a true heroine who never sells us – or herself – short.

Charles Spencer, Daily Telegraph, 5 Stars

Just occasionally you go to the theatre, think in the early stages that the production is absolutely not your cup of tea, only to discover that your prejudices are being overturned and that initial dismay has given way to sheer delight…. The action is set on what looks like a modern adventure playground, constructed of wood, and featuring a raised platform, a ramp, lots of step ladders and an on-stage band… What initially drew me into the production was the wonderful music by Benji Bower ranging from folk tunes and hymns to electronic minimalism and piano passages… But what really won me over was the clarity with which the complex story is told, combined with a winning directness and lack of artifice about the performances. One is gripped throughout and there isn't a hint of Victorian fustiness. Indeed, as a stage adaptation Cookson's production can stand comparison with both the RSC's Nicholas Nickleby, and Bill Bryden's staging of the medieval mystery plays…Madeleine Worrall brings a lovely mixture of courage and hurt in the title role, and she is equally persuasive as the sometimes terrified child crying out for justice and the young woman falling in love. Felix Hayes is a memorably gruff and sardonic Rochester…and Laura Elphinstone shines…Even Rochester's dog Pilot is brought to hilarious life by the actor Craig Edwards...But the whole production is a continually absorbing achievement which makes this great but perhaps over-familiar classic seem both fresh-minted and wonderfully engaging.

Griselda Murray Brown, FT, 4 Stars

Novels have never been so popular in the theatre…the so-called "acted book" is a sure way to draw the crowds – but a hard thing to do well…Sally Cookson's vivid production of Jane Eyre at the Bristol Old Vic avoids the pitfalls …Madeleine Worrall gives a powerful performance in the title role: she is convincing whether playing a bawling infant or a passionate lover…and the dialogue feels true to the novel yet stripped back. There are moments of no dialogue at all, when movement and music drive the story forward or pause it to suggest a character's unspoken feelings. …Music underpins the production, with a grand piano, double bass, drum kit and countless other instruments on stage. Composer Benji Bower draws more on folk than classical traditions…and even includes a haunting acoustic rendition of Gnarls Barkley's pop hit "Crazy"…Aideen Malone's lighting is by turns restrained…and irresistibly beautiful, working a subtle magic with the music…This is Jane Eyre reduced to its essentials then made into something new…Cookson's production draws out an unexpected humour in Felix Hayes' grumpy Rochester, the choreographed carriage rides and the happy-clappy music ...Four hours of theatre…certainly a commitment, but playgoers who take a risk on the bold, inventive production will find that it offers rich rewards.

Eleanor Turney, A Younger Theatre

Putting a four-and-a-half-hour, two-part adaptation of Jane Eyre on the main stage at Bristol Old Vic is a brave thing to do. Seeing both of them in one day is a bit of a slog …but overall well worth the investment. ..It's a good production, and extremely well-acted, but I do question whether it justifies its length…It's great to see Bristol Old Vic supporting, nurturing and presenting new work of this scope. Cookson and her cast have created an energetic and vivid production. Madeleine Worrall's Jane is onstage for the full show, and is impressively tender and strong. ..Equally impressive is Felix Hayes as Rochester, all gruff and bearded, gradually realising his own love for Jane. Melanie Marshall, as Bertha, is superb. Her singing voice is simply stunning, and the acoustics at the Old Vic could have been designed for a voice like hers… The pared-back staging has some lovely moments, but over the course of the show it begins to feel like we've seen some of these devices before. Benji Bowers's music really elevates the piece – there are moments that drag which are lifted by the score. It complements the action beautifully, is used to great effect to build atmosphere, and is pretty much pitch-perfect…. Frustratingly, it feels like a brilliant show struggling under the weight of extraneous narrative. There's some fat to be trimmed here, but all in all it's an enjoyable and extremely well-acted show.