REGARDLESS of how much you enjoyed studying Jane Eyre at school or college, its vivid scenes doubtlessly linger in the imagination; the red room, the burning bed, the brooding Yorkshire moors.

Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 novel follows the spirited, troubled heroine through the trials and tribulations of Victorian, God-fearing society.

“God might strike you must repent,” she is told by her host Mrs Reed at Gateshead Hall. From that point she experiences the height of puritanical claustrophobia at Mr Brocklehurst’s Lowood school, emotional tumult in the purgatory of the moors, and, eventually, love with Edward Rochester at Thornfield (despite his terrible secret).

But how to stage these evocative settings and situations in a manner that does justice to Charlotte Bronte’s rich writing without appearing over-elaborate? That’s one of the first questions that Sally Cookson’s wonderfully inventive production, presented jointly by National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic, asks the audience.

The set design initially appears skeletal, with a ladder connecting the two decks of the scaffold-like construct. A full band featuring double bass, acoustic guitar and an anachronistic modern drum-kit is tucked away in a corner, with the live score making sure the pace of the plot never drops.

As the play unfolds, the multi-dimensional stage setup allows for increased depth of perception as well as some lovely touches of choreography; most notably when Jane and Rochester (Tim Delap) twirl around the top of the ladder while locked in a loving embrace. Portable window frames are also used to powerful effect – they are partly a dance prop and partly a layering device.

One of the most striking features of Bronte’s novel is the presence of Jane’s inner voice as she confronts the confusion of the world around her. Her mental processes are thrillingly teased out as her sometimes contradictory thoughts are echoed back to her by the supporting cast.

All of this is without mentioning Nadia Clifford, the diminutive dynamo at the heart of the production. Her Jane is exquisite and endlessly engaging, whether she’s telling it straight – “I cry because I’m miserable” she says while locked up in the red room – or wrapped up in existential crises. “Where is God? What is God?” she laments moments before the death of her friend Helen Burns.

Clifford grew up worshipping the Bronte sisters – particularly Charlotte – and her passion for the text shines through. She shifts seamlessly from alienated child to respected teacher at Lowood, and her conversations with Rochester (Tim Delap) sparkle with wit, humour and compassion.

In a play of innovative features, the most memorable of the lot is the recurring presence of Rochester’s estranged Creole wife Bertha (Melanie Marshall), locked in the attic of Thornfield. Clad in red satin dress she drifts in and out of the action, a haunting observer of the unfolding plot.

For those who didn’t know before, it doesn’t take long to realise that Marshall is a professional singer. She packs a devastating yet subtle emotional punch as she tackles a range of surprising (and, in some cases, very modern) numbers that are well-suited to the story. Her scene-stealing display will live long in the memory of all that witnessed it.

A standing ovation met the actors at the end of the play. Clifford looked overwhelmed and humbled by the audience’s response but it was fully deserved; she and her cast delivered a heart-warming, life-affirming performance to remind us just why Bronte’s novel has such a lasting appeal.