Bronte by Polly Teale

Bronte is a compelling play about the Bronte family – Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Bramwell, son of clergyman, Patrick Bronte. It’s about writing and why it matters, set between 1825 and 1855. The director, Nettie Sheridan, said: there are some difficult themes: “violence, sexual aggression, death, mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse.” Sheridan writes: “It has always been a mystery that these celibate, Victorian women, living in virtual isolation on the Yorkshire Moors, came to write some of the most passionate (even erotic) fiction of all time.”

For those of you who enjoyed reading Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, this play is a must see as the characters slip in and out of their novels. Three spinsters live with their elderly father in the Parsonage at Haworth, they appear self-contained and self-sufficient.

However, in each of them, hidden well beneath the surface, lies a tormented soul. Charlotte may be repressed. Emily is a free spirit and Anne takes longer to find her voice as the youngest child. Each of them writes about mental illness and the dark night of the soul with a perception that is ahead of their time and hardly based on their sheltered experience.

Bramwell, their wayward brother, might be the explanation. He is lost, bowed down by expectations as the only son, he is the only member of the family who glimpses freedom. Joseph Bentley plays this character with alacrity and he is responsible for most of the conflict in the play. Sibling rivalry, jealousy bordering on cruelty comes to a head during the play’s dramatic climax in the second half and it is unexpected. Bentley is a seasoned performer in the Brighton Little Theatre company with 24 shows under his belt. He has recently started directing productions.

Joanna Ackroyd acts as Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre. She has television credits and acted as mother in The Railway Children last summer for Brighton Little Theatre. Polly Jones brings her own approach to the character of Emily Bronte and Nelly Dean. She is very private, for her writing is catharsis. She does not seek acclaim and when Charlotte finds and reads some of her poetry, it feels like a betrayal. She is unaware of her own genius.

Lois Regan plays Anne Bronte who wrote The Tenant of Wildfell Hall which is a radical, revolutionary work and has been described as the first fully formed feminist novel, ahead of its time. Ella Jay Morley haunts the stage as Cathy and Bertha. She is enigmatic in her first production at Brighton Fringe.

Steven Adams is the long-suffering father of the Bronte siblings who quietly guides, comforts and prays for his outstanding offspring. Steven is very funny as Curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls.

You do not need to have read the Bronte’s prose or poetry to enjoy the play, although some familiarity with their work will add depth to the experience. The script, written by Polly Teale, is very well-crafted, if a little slow to start. It is excellent that Teale weaves the three great novels into the play with ease and accuracy in a true celebration of the Bronte literature. Direction by Nettie Sheridan is very good. The set is also interesting with feathers littering the stage, designed by Steven Adams.

I think this is an outstanding play that makes you dig deep into the depths of human experience and shows the power of writing and art to inspire, escape and comfort. At times, teetering on the edge of insanity, the Bronte sisters write erotically about the passions that make us human and how to manage them. The play has inspired me to read the Brontës’ timeless literature again and immerse myself in the ever-changing moods of the Yorkshire Moors. Do not miss this compelling production at Brighton Little Theatre.

Five stars *****