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INTERVIEW | Nadia Clifford Talks About her Role as Feminist Heroine Jane Eyre

Following the critically acclaimed run at the National Theatre, the bold and dynamic production of Jane Eyre is embarking on a UK tour, opening at the Lowry on the 8th of April. The high-spirited heroine will be played by Nadia Clifford, who has an immense passion for the story, and the character of Jane herself.

“I feel like everyone should read this book,” Nadia said. “There are few books that are really transformative in terms of the way it makes you look at yourself and those around you. The characters are deeply flawed and really real which isn’t common in literature and film, as frequently the characters are too perfect and therefore become less authentic.”

After falling in love with acting during her first role as a youngster, where she played Thumbelina in school production, Nadia went on to train at Bristol Old Vic before appearing as numerous roles in London.

Nadia didn’t see the production whilst it was at the National Theatre, which she was gutted about at the time, but she said: “I am now really pleased that I didn’t, because it is very difficult to shape what you have seen and felt during a show, and make it fresh. It’s especially hard to fight that urge to refer back to it, and so I am working from a completely blank slate.”

Nadia had known the novel for years, and she described herself as having “quite a nerdy fan relationship with the Brontë sisters.” She had read everything they had written and feels she has quite a personal relationship with Jane Eyre. Nadia explained: “I am completely fascinated and inspired by her as a literary character.”

Jane is such a complex character, and Nadia stressed this when talking about the process in which she has gone through in order to reflect that on stage. “I have to translate the character into an authentic voice that comes out of me, that is a living, breathing incarnation of what I feel when I read about her in the book,” she said. “It takes time to realise and evoke who that person is – that is a really involved emotional process that is only going to happen through trial and error.”

 

Production photo of Jane Eyre at the National Theatre in 2015 starring Madeleine Worrall as Jane.

 

Director Sally Cookson has been praised for her production at the National Theatre. Sally is an exceptionally innovative director and creates most of her work through devising, so the performance feels organic and genuine, but most importantly true to the actors. Whilst it is still the national theatre production, with the introduction of a new cast, they go through the same learning and growing process again in order to create the piece. Nadia explained that Sally is really interested in going back to the novel and really looking and what is written in order to shape the performance. Nadia said: “The reason I was so excited about this adaptation was that our Jane is really unwilling to sit back and see injustice without saying anything.”

Nadia gushed about Sally, and how nourishing it has been to work with someone who has a completely boundless imagination. “She is completely open and generous to the process that takes place in order to enhance the discovery,” she said. “It feels really exciting to be working with a woman who is able to articulate the things about Jane that I feel really really deep down in my gut.”

 

“She is really fiery and bold and headstrong and sometimes can be quite bad-tempered or hot-headed, but she also has an intense need for love. She feels things really intensely and has a tenderness and gentleness that means she is exquisitely complex ,which makes her a joy to read, but a real challenge to play.”

 

Nadia explained that Jane is inspiring, interesting but also flawed. She was adamant that she wants to make Jane as human as possible, so she is identifiable and the audience can relate to her. In regards to other parts Nadia has played previously, she talked about how she has found the pace of the rehearsal process so challenging but incredibly eye-opening. She said: “I have to allow for the detail of all the different stages to come through the process rather than wanting to be right at the top of the mountain from day one.”

What makes this  particular adaptation of the well-known novel Jane Eyre so powerful is how abundantely alive it is. “I think the language of the play is so unique and like no other. It has taken the heart and soul of the novel, and transformed it into a full sensual world filled with music, life and light,” Nadia said. “It has the emotional investment of a naturalistic piece of theatre, but it is scored in a way that you feel like the music is being used the same way music is used in film.”

 

“The score seeps into the images and lifts the story to a place that allows the audience to feel emotionally transported.”

 

In regards to the play’s relevance today, although it is an iconic novel, it poses themes and ideas that are identifiable in today’s society. “I think one of the reasons that the novel has stood the test of time and people continue to discover it is because a lot of the themes are really universal,” Nadia said. “The idea of wanting to realise your ambition and your potential, having intense grief in a way that is so profound, wanting to be loved and feeling loved, questioning your relationship in terms of who you see yourself to be – those feelings are a very modern trait.”

It is a strong feminist piece of theatre, as Jane Eyre is a character that fights against gender stereotypes, which is incredibly important as it happened in an era where this wasn’t common at all. “At the time, it was massively subversive for a woman to even be considering these pursuits of self-knowledge and developing themselves intellectually. People would question your sanity at that time if you wanted more than to be a mother or a wife and wanting to just pursue you own passions and interests,” Nadia explained.

 

“Jane is a massive feminist.”

 

“She is a feminist in terms of the fact that she doesn’t believe that her sex should dictate her opportunities,” she said. “She believes fundamentally the human right to express yourself, to love and be loved and pursue knowledge and live in any way you deem fit as long as it isn’t helping others is a human right. The idea behind feminism is that men and women are equal, neither are superior, and Jane holds that throughout the novel and it just makes her a badass.”

Opening at the Lowry on the 8th of April, details can be found here.

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