REVIEW: Jane Eyre, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until Saturday. Box office: 01723 370541 or

The woman and man in black at the SJT: Sam Jenkins-Shaw’s Rochester and Eleanor Sutton’s Jane in Jane Eyre. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

AT the heart of the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s Bronte Festival is the SJT and New Vic Theatre’s co-production of Jane Eyre, adapted by Chris Bush, a Sheffield playwright with a York past drawn to Charlotte Bronte’s revolutionary spirit.

In the wake of the 2022 tour of Kirsty Smith and Kat Rose-Martin’s Jane Hair, re-imagining the Bronte sisters as modern-day Haworth hairdressers and Anne as a political blogger, Bush shows rather more “respect, but not reverence” in her nimble adaptation, eschewing a narrator in favour of letting Zoe Waterman’s cast of actor-musicians crack on with telling the story with a purposeful stride to rival Suranne Jones’s Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack.

Bush had first been offered Emily’s Wuthering Heights, but she was happier to accept the second invitation of sibling Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. “I’m just really drawn to Jane both as a character and a figure,” she reasoned. “I love her determination to take control of her destiny.”

Bush’s Jane Eyre, as characterised by Eleanor Sutton with her scraped-back hair, is a no-nonsense, unbending Yorkshire woman of exacting standards, passionate and impatient, no respecter of authority but resolute in observing her own moral code.

Playwright Chris Bush

From orphaned childhood, she is in a hurry, on a mission, so much so that Bush suddenly stops a play so quick out of the traps that she decides it needs a refresher course in one of those “not reverent” insertions from the Bush playbook of playwriting.

Somewhat against the grain of a Bronia Housman design aesthetic that conveys Bronte’s harsh world by favouring minimalism to keep the scene-changing to a minimum, the pace to the maximum and Nao Nagai’s lighting to the fore, much emphasis is placed Simon Slater’s compositions and sound design rooted in “19th century pop hits” in the spirit of a folk musical or a Brecht and Weill play with music.

They serve the purpose of propelling a story of complexity yet clarity forward, or providing time to catch breath, but their profusion is counter-productive, ultimately slowing down this all-action, vibrant Jane Eyre, by contrast with Sally Cookson’s exhilarating, breathless production for the Bristol Old Vic/National Theatre that toured York and Leeds in 2017.

Like Cookson, Waterman has employed a multi role-playing cast, save for Sutton’s ever-resourceful, clever and fiery Jane Eyre and Sam Jenkins-Shaw’s restless, troubled Rochester, whose burgeoning chemistry climaxes in a beautiful, moving  finale.

Nia Gandhi, Sarah Groarke and Zoe West throw up their hands in Jane Eyre. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

There is much to enjoy in the ensemble interplay of Tomi Ogbaro, Nia Gandhi, Zoe West and Sarah Groarke’s constant changes of character or returning with instrument in hand, the fleet-footed flow being aided by Will Tuckett’s movement direction.

Bush’s way with words elicits passion, shards of wit, nuggety northern nous, poetic darkness and light too, and amid the proto-feminist zeal, she highlights the mistreatment and lack of understanding of Bertha, the “mad woman in the attic”.

By having Sutton transform from Jane into Bertha with a loosening of her hair and a change of body shape, Bush makes a link between the two women, one whose free spirit cannot be contained despite the rigid class structure, the other forcibly restrained with terrible consequences.

Should you miss this week’s 7.30pm performances, tomorrow’s 1.30pm matinee or Saturday’s 2.30pm show, a second chance to breathe in this fresh Jane Eyre comes at the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme, from May 4 to 28. For more details of the SJT’s Bronte Festival, including Stute Theatre’s I Am No Bird in The McCarthy, today until Saturday, head to: