Review By Michelle Sutton
The play Brontë was written by Polly Neale in 2005 and imagines the lives of the three Brontë sisters, their brother Branwell and father Patrick as they lived, worked and wrote in early 1800s in isolated West Yorkshire, England. It explores the life, family drama and influences of famed trailblazing female authors Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë.
The Genesian Theatre situated in a historic church on Kent St in the middle of the city with its vibrant stained-glass windows, wooden beams and remaining church pews is always a charming location for a period piece and does its part to aid the audience on their journey back in time. Directed by Barry Nielsen with assistant directing from Georgia Jarrett, the Genesian Theatre Company’s production of Brontë focusses on the relationships between family members, the influence of Patrick as a writer himself to encourage his daughters to read widely and form their own critical thoughts and opinions, the searing envy and jealousy of Branwell’s ability to go out into the world to study and work and have opportunities the daughters could only dream of and the tumultuous, intense but ultimately loving relationship between the three sisters. The script merges reality and imagination, using characters from the sister's novels to illustrate their subconscious. Susan Carveth costume design is appropriately minimalistic, with enough stylistic and colour differences to convey the differences in individual styles and attitudes but holding true to the rigid values of modesty and the great poverty of the era.
Aneeka Brownsberger’s intelligent, nuanced, and grounded performance as the eldest Brontë sister Charlotte anchors the whole play. It is predominantly through Charlotte’s eyes that we view the story, perhaps because of her enduring legacy which is in part owing to the fact the outlived her sisters therefore having the power to burn letters, manuscripts, and control some of the narrative around herself and her family. Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou plays Emily with a lot of appropriate melodrama and angst however tends to rely on a raised voice a bit too much throughout the course of the show which can be distracting. Rebecca Harris plays the principled Anne with optimism and idealism. The play mentions the way that history and the literary world have often regarded Anne as additional reading to provide context for the great works of Charlotte and Emily, diminishing and undermining her achievements as an author in her own right. Disappointingly, the play does little to remedy this, presenting Anne in a somewhat one-dimensional light but still celebrating her unique achievements.
The fascinating element of mystery arising from the lack of historical information regarding the daily lives of the Bronte’s means that numerous works inspired by their lives are sure to be created and Neale’s play is a very worthy and enjoyable contribution to this collection. Overall, the show is a vivid and enchanting imagining of the lives of the Brontës, full to the brim with passion, fear, mourning, ambition, despair, and hope. The Genesian Theatre Company has done a wonderful job bringing this tale to life, the production is a wonderful tribute and testament to the timeless power of the Brontë’s words.