Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

A humourless visit to to Haworth


Highbury Theatre Centre

Sutton Coldfield


Polly Teale has written a play that is packed with words, rather than action. It offers curiosity, rather than excitement. But it gives loyal followers of the three Brontë sisters the chance to take an imaginative look into their lives – at times when characters from their books are making themselves prominent.

This is an interesting intermingling of writers and the written about and it is one with which all director Sandra Haynes's players cope well. This is a strong company – albeit one in which one of the sisters was struggling with a bad cough on the first night – and one whose members move slickly between the many scenes as well as playing strongly during them.

 A pointer to that strength may be gauged from the fact that despite the confident performances of the central core of the cast, the member who unfailingly catches the attention is the delightful, diminutive Trudi Shaw – now in a white dress, now in deep red – as  she intermittently sneaks into the proceedings, either as Cathy (from Wuthering Heights) or Bertha Mason (from Jane Eyre). 

As Cathy, she has a childlike innocence; as Bertha, she is a lustful feline minx. All but one of her brief appearances find her in a small space beside the studio wall. The exception is when she advances further onto the stage but is required to get down on the floor, which puts her out of sight of most of the audience with the exception of the front row. If she were a couple of yards further back, the problem would be resolved. 

The famous portrait of the sisters, Anne (left), Emily and Charlotte, by their brother Branwell. He first painted himself in the family portrait then painted himself out - rather badly - supposedly to avoid cluttering the canvas,  leaving his ghostly image hovering in the background

Alison Cahill is Charlotte Brontë – a strong, resolute characterisation, despite the affliction with which she was struggling. Fate being what it is, it falls to her to proclaim that her health has been good since her honeymoon. Stephanie Doswell is Emily, also firm of purpose and declaring an absence of any desire to learn embroidery. And Elizabeth Lycett is Anne, self-described as strange and brittle and apt to deliver some of her many lines rapidly enough to offer a challenge to the audience to keep up – but a worthy cornerpiece in the literary triangle that is housed by Haworth parsonage. 

Peter Molloy is the father of the sisters. He is also Ben Nicholls (the curate), Mr Heger (Charlotte's tutor, with a fine passion for words) and Rochester (from Jane Eyre). He has a busy time – on one occasion having to switch between an English and an Irish accent in the time it takes him to go out of one door and in by another, but he copes without a qualm. 

Mark Roberts catches the eye with a powerful account of the dissolute Branwell, brother of the sisters and branded a liar, thief, cheat and fraudster; and Oliver Leonard is the man without whom no study of the Brontës could hope to be complete – Heathcliff, straight out of Wuthering Heights. 

This is a weighty occasion, finding no room for the slightest suspicion of humour but offering an absorbing experience for anyone prepared to give it a try – and the studio was packed to the gunwales on opening night. To 23-10-10

John Slim

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