by Polly Teale.
Watermill Theatre Newbury To 22 May 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat2.30pm except 22 May at 1.30pm and 6.30pm.
Audio-described 13 May 2.30pm.
Post-show discussion 30 April, 14 May.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 01635 46044.
Review Mark Courtice 22 April.
Not so quiet desperation in Yorkshire.
By calling her play Brontë, Polly Teale seems to be looking for a collective quality shared by the three spinster sisters who led to the outpouring of creative passion that is Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre. Actually her portrait of the isolation of the parsonage at Haworth houses a variety of talents and personalities.
Hemmed in by a huge black brick wall sensible but driven Charlotte, faintly batty Emily and earnest youngest Anne cope with the uncertain temper of their father and the unreliable Bramwell, as well as the driving need to write. Around them everything is changing, the cloth trade is mechanising, women are being educated, and literary fame is a real possibility. It’s invigorating stuff, an intellectual and artistic adventure. But there is also desperation in the struggle with poverty, keeping up genteel appearances, and coping with mental illness and drunkenness.
In showing us this, the performances by Kristin Atherton, Elizabeth Crarer and Flora Nicholson are restrained, avoiding the conventional view that Haworth was constantly in a state of hysteria. They do, however, catch the desperation. A splendidly flamboyant, scarlet clad Mrs Rochester from Jane Eyre adds the touch of wildness. Oddly, Teale’s Charlotte writes because she seeks celebrity, which feels like a rather 21st century preoccupation.
Nancy Meckler’s production is full of thoughtful touches, with a good sense of control; only occasionally it feels a bit laboured when movement sections stop the flow. It’s particularly well served by Ruth Sutcliffe’s set which is all bleak black walls with a high window leaking uncertain light over the piled-up books and writing materials.
Effective projections in deep primary colours evoke Yorkshire skies, or the profile of the moors. The costumes serve character with effect – especially so when the young girls are constrained into womanhood as they force themselves into corsets.
Knowing the novels (there is a crib in the programme) really will help to get what’s going on, but this is a fascinating exploration of a moment in our creative history even if you don’t know the work it spawned.
Charlotte: Kristin Atherton.
Emily: Elizabeth Crarer.
Branwell/Heathcliff: Mark Edel-Hunt.
Brontë/Rochester/Bell Nicholls/Heger: David Fielder.
Cathy/Mrs Rochester: Frances McNamee.
Anne: Flora Nicholson.
Director: Nancy Meckler.
Designer: Ruth Sutcliffe.
Lighting: Tim Lutkin.
Music: Peter Salem.
Movement: Liz Ranken.
Assistant director: Tom Hughes.