FOLLOWING sell-out performances of their previous productions of 1984 and Antigone, hopes were high for Eleventh Hour Theatre’s new play exploring the lives of some of literature’s brightest stars.
Unfortunately this production turned out to be more like The Professor than Jane Eyre.
The play follows the four Bronte siblings as they search for meaningful employment and personal fulfilment outside their father’s austere Northern parsonage.
Unsung brother Branwell was the family’s golden child. Professional success is quickly followed by death and eventually only Charlotte survives into her late thirties.
The actors do well with the material they are given and their attempts to make the sisters seem more independent from each other were noticeable. Anyone who is unfamiliar with the Bronte’s lives will appreciate this incredibly well-researched production.
The enthusiastic but aimless plot mirrors the siblings’ confused search for fulfilment but unfortunately this does not make for a very entertaining production. Passages of dull exposition are interspersed with occasional periods of shouting.
Charlotte occasionally acts as narrator but the plot gives each sibling equal weight in the narrative so it’s not clear whose story is being told. If the play is about the family as a whole then this tell-don’t-show approach to their lives leaves hardly any room to explore the siblings’ relationship to each other.
The play’s website describes Charlotte as an ambitious dreamer while Emily is an “intense loner” and Anne is a gentle “would-be social reformer”. These different priorities and professional jealousies would have been interesting to see but unfortunately the 50-minute runtime only makes room for mentions of these things alongside all the exposition.
Charlotte and her siblings never seem to progress or develop as people from one end of the play to the other, with the exception that some of them are dead by the end.
Sudden fame, death, and even their induction into the traditionally male literary world: none of these things seem to have any tangible impact on the sisters lives and relationships.
The costumes and sets were patchy but this can be expected forgiven for any low-budget Fringe production. With the exception of a distractingly fake-looking wig the authenticity of the props and costumes to the era reflected a degree of care which shows a real affection for the play’s subjects.
The title, a line from Cathy’s passionate description of her relationship with Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, overall does not describe this ambitious but under-developed play.