by Polly Teale.
Tricycle Theatre 269 Kilburn High Road NW6 7JR 5-30 April.
Mon-Sat 8pm (except 6 April 7pm no performance 25 April) Mat Sat 4pm & 13, 20, 27 April 2pm.
TICKETS: 020 7328 1000.
Then tour to 4 June 2011.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 2 April at Oxford Playhouse.
Successfully bringing three novelists home.
Early in Polly Teale’s exploration of life among the Brontë sisters it emerges that the women’s clerical father Patrick was Irish, in one line establishing three more for the Irish ascendancy in English literature.
This gives a new perspective to the temperaments burning in the household among the then remote Yorkshire hills. Skilfully constructed, if sometimes a little explicitly information-bearing, Teale’s play receives a matching flair in Nancy Meckler’s direction, where only the stylised movement as characters from two of the sisters’ novels appear seems contrived from the company’s style half-a-generation ago.
Yet, to the last, such movement lifts the young women’s existence amid the obscure rut of rural reality suggested by Chahine Yavroyan’s frequently low-intensity lighting And by designer Ruth Sutcliffe’s suggestion of grey drystone walls, with hints of sky-patterns above offering places of flight out of human reach.
Sutcliffe’s setting contrasts these outer elements with an open-sided stage, and a single door leading outside. From these directions men come to order the sisters; principally over-assured brother Branwell, whose ambitions gradually dissipate in drink, and the stern Patrick.
There also swirl, as if unconsciously invited, the red-coated Mrs Rochester from Charlotte’s Jane Eyre or the intense Cathy of Emily’s Wuthering Heights. And the sisters who sit around the table or carry out daily household tasks occasionally regroup in acting out their childhood fantasy stories.
So millstone grit and free-playing imagination co-exist. And Meckler’s direction, aided by Yavroyan’s lighting, keeps these lives remote, as if we’re looking in on a family that has its own rituals and understandings, stronger than anything the outside world can bring.
Yet each sister is clearly distinguished: Flora Nicolson’s Anne, self-realising also-ran novelist (yet attacked for her frank language), Kristin Atherton’s Charlotte who nearly loses the chance of marriage through her father and who brings a sense of control to her life and fictional reinventions. And, in contrast, Elizabeth Crarer’s Emily, often standing separate, speculative, finding tensions in all areas of life, evoking the mind that wrote Wuthering Heights (her other works allegedly doctored by Charlotte after Emily died) on a different plane of imagination.
Charlotte Brontë: Kristin Atherton.
Emily Brontë: Elizabeth Crarer.
Branwell Brontë/Heathcliff/Arthur Huntingdon: Mark Edel-Hunt.
Patrick Brontë/Bell Nicholls/Rochester/Heger: Stephen Finegold.
Cathy/Mrs Rochester: Frances McNamee.
Anne Brontë: Flora Nicholson.
Director: Nancy Meckler.
Designer: Ruth Sutcliffe.
Lighting: Chahine Yavroyan.
Sound/Composer: Peter Salem.
Movement: Liz Ranken.
Voice: Annemette Verspeak.
Dialect: Majella Hurley.
Assistant director: Tom Hughes.
Mark Courtice’s review of the 2010 production is in the reviewsgate.com Archive.