Not your average romance: Rochester and Jane Eyre in acclaimed staging in Norwich
- Credit: Archant
Tim Delap tells us about playing Rochester in Sally Cookson's highly acclaimed imaginative stripped back staging of Jane Eyre as it arrives at Norwich Theatre Royal.
This year marks the 170th anniversary of the first publication of Charlotte Brontë's romantic gothic masterpiece Jane Eyre.
It is a novel that is often misunderstood as being twee, but Sally Cookson's energetic and imaginative new adaptation, which arrives at Norwich Theatre Royal next week, gets close to the heart of this fierce yet fragile tale, the story of one woman's fight for freedom and fulfilment.
From her beginnings as a destitute orphan, Jane Eyre's spirited heroine faces life's obstacles head-on, surviving poverty, injustice and the discovery of bitter betrayal before taking the ultimate decision to follow her heart.
Cookson has a track record of page-to-stage success and her highly acclaimed bold production, which was first staged at the Bristol Old Vic in 2014 and at the National Theatre in 2015, is presented on a stripped back stage.
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It is a dynamic show packed with physical movement from the ensemble cast, who take on various roles — from the first cries of baby Jane to sheep on the moors — and with a live band on-stage providing the soundtrack.
This anniversary production sees Nadia Clifford take the central role of Jane Eyre while Tim Delap is making his National Theatre debut as Rochester.
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How did you get the part of Rochester?
It was kind of the most rigorous audition process that I've ever been through. Because it is such an ensemble piece with a lot of movement and choral work as well as the big emotional scenes that Rochester and Jane have together we did an awful lot of work. The audition was much more like a rehearsal than an audition where you just read a couple of scenes. Sally really got it on its feet. It is a very physical show and I think Rochester is also quite a physical character, so Sally wanted to put me through my paces.
How did you prepare for the physical side of the show?
We actually did quite a few ball games and a few exercises, as well as reading the scenes. It is very rhythmical with the music and there is a lot of movement. You have to do certain things on certain beats and I think Sally just wanted to check that we all had a sense of rhythm. I don't need to go to the gym. It is very much like a workout being in this show.
The stripped back style of the show sees all the cast called on to play different parts, including at points even being sheep and a dog. Is that fun?
It's really fun. It is nice to not have to just worry about playing Rochester but to come into the show playing John Reed, the little brat, and then playing a girl at Lowood School and just being part of the ensemble. It's exciting and a rollercoaster because for us as actors the show is non-stop. We are constantly as part of the ensemble playing different characters. It is very unlike anything I've done before and it's thrilling.
Did you know the book before taking on the role of Rochester?
Obviously it's such a famous novel but I hadn't read it before the audition which is kind of awful to admit. When I did read it I found that the image of people have of the book is not really what the book is about. It is seen as this very romantic novel, the cover is often very twee and the depiction of Jane as this meek and mild character, but it is not that at all. She is this incredibly firey, feisty, powerful character. That's one of the things that Sally is so passionate about. It is an incredibly exciting novel, really energetic and I think this show reflects that and hopefully it will bring audiences and readers back to it.
Is there a misconception that it a bit of a girl's book?
For some reason I always connected it to Jane Austen and they are so different. Charlotte Brontë's voice is so unique and so powerful and this is just a brilliant feminist novel about equal rights and I think the show puts that across. The love story of Rochester and Jane is not you're average romance either. There is a real meeting of minds.
The relationship is in many ways an odd one?
Yes. He is this wealthy very troubled, disturbed landowner with this very dark secret who has treated his mentally ill wife in a very dubious way, depending on how you look at it. The way Jane meets him and confronts him, standing up to him, changes him. It is a really fascinating relationship. It is not just about Jane wanting to get married. She actually fights against that because she doesn't want to be kept. It's a real relationship, in many ways so modern.
• Jane Eyre, Norwich Theatre Royal, July 17-22, 7.30pm, 2.30pm July 19/22, £27.50-£8, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk