A passion project telling the story of literary icons of the Brontë family. Actors do their best but this “storm” (another meaning of the world brontë), brings no thunders.
The tale of 4 siblings
The tale of 3 Brontë sisters and their brother is already some kind of a stage classic. Their biography has been made into countless plays and, rock’n’roll extravaganza (Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Revue Presents ‘The Brontës) even a rock musical (Wasted). The biography of Charlotte, Ann, Emily, and Bramwell delivers complex material for all kinds of shows, that’s for sure.
“The Brontës: A Musical” sheds the light on just a couple of distinct events in the lives of the family, specifically the ones that lead to the creation of sister’s most famous novels, creating their aliases and eventually, uncovering their true identities. All this was accompanied by Charlotte and Emily’s academic stay in Brussels, heartbreaks, and a slowly developing opium and alcohol addiction of Bramwell.
Diving deeper into the gender roles and social issues of the XIX c.
I was glad to hear that there was quite some focus on gender roles and how difficult it has been for the Brontës to publish their books – after all, it was not perceived as “moral” for ladies to write stories like “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre”. Their novels examined subject matter which was “unfeminine” for their early Victorian readers: sexual passion, slang, alcoholism, domestic abuse, and violence. So by using masculine pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, the ladies protected themselves and their family. This whole issue is well-highlighted in the play and is one of the parts I enjoyed the most.
4 fantastic young leads
The 4 leads give it their all. Charlotte (Anya Williams), the longest-living sibling, acts almost as the story’s narrator. She’s both serious and easily swayed by emotions, which creates an interesting, complex character. Anne (Emma Cobby) is the realist and the emotional support of the group. Emily (Megan Henson) seems the most responsible and naturally caring towards her brother. Bramwell (James Tudor Jones) is easily emotions-driven and, after his heartbreak, never really returns to being truly himself. I sensed some great chemistry between the leads, and it felt like they all genuinely treated this show as a passion project rather than just another show.
The ensemble does a great job portraying an array of characters and adding the comedy factor to the play. My favourite of the group has been Kevin Murphy – his moments of “reading letters” to the Brontës had a slight tendency to almost resemble the style of King George from “Hamilton” at times (fantastic!).
Not yet a perfect play
The play has a lot of potential, but there are some gaps that I would still focus on improving. The stage movement, needs a bit of work – quite some scenes were staged in an undemanding way, with one person talking and everyone else just frozen on the stage, looking.
The stage setting is simple, yet very books-focused: there’s a setup of two rooms, with the ever-present books visible. Present in the back of the stage is also the copy of the famous family portrait painted by Bramwell (the original can be seen in the National Portrait Gallery), and we see how the painting first showcases all 4 siblings, but eventually, the author paints himself out. There’s a projection on the wall above the stage, but due to strong lighting, it keeps on looking either blurry or too bright to properly see what’s visible there – such a shame!
My biggest issue with the show is the music layer. Generally, songs in musicals are meant to push the action forward. In the case of “The Brontës: A Musical”, sometimes songs simply repeat or amplify what you’ve already seen before. An example could be Charlotte’s song at the end of act one, when she just summarises her own story so far, without adding much added emotional value to it. In general, the music arrangements seem a bit disjointed from the lyrics and voices. I found myself thinking that if the play was just a drama, without the music, I would probably enjoy it more.
Unfortunately, on an opening evening, there were some technical issues with microphones being either too sensitive or not working at all, which especially at the beginning of the play, made certain lyrics difficult to understand.
The show has lots of potential, and with a cast like this, could be substantially improved. However, for now, it just doesn’t deliver the “oomph” I was expecting from a show based on such solid material as the biography of the famous siblings.
Written by Katie Palmer, Lucas Tahiruzzaman Syed & Sarah Zeigler
Directed by Victoria Hadel
until 20th August 2022
PR Invite – all opinions are my own.