Celebrated sisters still a mystery
Grange Playhouse, Walsall
Teale has penned a powerful, puzzling play about Emily, Anne and
Charlotte Brontë, the three spinster sisters who managed to write
remarkable stories about the power of love – but it is a play that does
not explain how they did it.
Yes, it draws parallels
between them and some of their characters – who are for the most part
not permitted to stray beyond the confines of the cage in which they
intermittently appear, and we see that their dissolute brother Branwell
was also an unwitting inspiration – but the power of their writing
remains a mystery.
Director Claire Armstrong Mills and a fine
company may well be as bemused as the rest of us – but if they are, it
does not show. This is a fine production: that missing fifth star is a
reflection on the play, not its presentation.
The cast come with admirable aplomb to a wordy
work, full of time-shifts, and which includes characters from the Brontë
novels – four of them are represented here – shown as reflections of the
women who created them. When Rochester (Adam Worton) appears, Charlotte
Brontë becomes his Jane Eyre, for instance.
Liz Webster is Emily, strong and positive; Liz
Plumpton is the troubled Charlotte; and Laura Chinn is Anne, the
specially kindly one whose talents do not match those of her remarkable
sisters. Together, they provide an absorbing study of their kind of
literary life in Yorkshire's Haworth Parsonage. It is not their fault
that is is also unavoidably bemusing,
Rob Laird is in fine form as their brother – a
brother who evinces a distinctly and disturbingly unbrotherly attitude
to Charlotte until their clergyman father, the splendid David Stone,
arrives in a welter of Irishisms and clerical shock to call a halt. Adam
Worton, in addition to his responsibilities to Rochester, is also the
curate and Charlotte's tutor.
Then there are the other characters from the
books: the programme calls them The Ghosts. Becki Jay has an innocent
charm as the white-garbed Cathy (Wuthering Heights) and
distinctly lascivious leanings as Bertha, the first Mrs Rochester
(Jane Eyre), in alarming red. Rob Laird is Heathcliff
(Wuthering Heights) and Arthur Huntington (The Tenant of
All told, Polly Teale has come up with a worryingly clever confection. Some time before it ended, I was too far gone to have any idea whether all those strange noises that emerged late-on from backstage were part of the production of simply a sustained intrusion. To 20-11-10
Turning the page
* * *
AFTER watching Polly Teale's play about the famous Bronte sisters, many people in the audience probably go home wondering just what caused the three women to become such brilliant authors.
Living hum-drum lives in a remote parsonage on the Yorkshire moors, under the restrictive influence of a domineering father, hardly seems the ideal situation to inspire the imagination, but Emily, Charlotte and Anne rose above it all.
The play, almost devoid of humour, examines the years between 1825 and 1855, and the only love interest comes with the tentative approach - through father - from timid curate Arthur Bell Nichols (Adam Worton) for Charlotte, though later there is a surprise marriage.
Costumes and the well designed set, with a screen at the rear to show pictures of the area, along with dates, certainly gives the play a sense of realism, and the acting is superb.
Liz Plumpton (Charlotte), Liz Webster (Emily) and Laura Chinn (Anne) are totally convincing, with David Stone impressive as their strict clergyman father, Patrick.
The most dramatic scenes comes when the women's drunken, under-achieving brother Barnwell (Rob Laird) has a violent hands on row with Charlotte.
Becki Jay also does well as the ghosts of Cathy from Wuthering Heights and Bertha, the first Mrs Rochester from Jane Eyre.
Directed and produced by Claire Armstrong Mills and Rosemary Manjunath, Bronte runs to 20-11-10