(Chris Wiegands’ Guardian interview appeared 4/7.)
(Go to National Theatre at Home)
As her bold staging of the classic novel is screened as part of National Theatre at Home, the director discusses Brontë’s genius – and the seismic effects of lockdown
‘The Orson Welles film completely misses the point’ … Jane Eyre at the National Theatre in 2015. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian
What drew you to staging Jane Eyre?
It’s a story I’ve loved since I was a child although I didn’t read the novel until I was in my 20s. As a kid I was intrigued by the black-and-white film noir version with Orson Welles as Rochester and music by Bernard Herrmann. When I read the book at drama school, I thought: that film completely misses the point. It might as well have been called Rochester. The book is a clarion call for equal opportunities for women, not a story about a passive female who’ll do anything for her hunky boss.
I was struck by how modern Charlotte Brontë’s Jane seemed – her spirit and strong will, her peculiar and brilliant mind. She lashes out against anything that prevents her from being herself. I just thought: wow, I’d love to be someone like that. It’s such an epic story and has been so often turned into film, TV, theatre and ballet versions. I was intrigued as to why we keep going back to it.
Was it a daunting project, knowing that the book is so loved?
Adapting a novel like that is challenging – it’s taken on legendary status. If you’re going to be as bold as to do another version, you have to put all that to one side and trust that you’ve got a right to tell this story and it’s going to be how the people in the room want to tell this story. So I was initially anxious but quickly forgot about it.
When you read the novel again, did it surprise you at all?
As a child, I had been drawn to the romance of the film. In my 20s I was attracted to the feminism. As a mature woman, I was struck by the individual human rights and the weight the novel places on them. Jane understands from a very early age that you need to be emotionally, spiritually and intellectually nourished to thrive. She didn’t have any of these things given to her. They are basic human needs we all require to flourish. That’s what I wanted to bring to the fore.