A Life Less Ordinary is There for the Imagining

30/07/2010 at 2:04 pm Leave a comment

presented by ATYP Under the Wharf & Illyria Productions

In my more indulgent moments I have pause to reflect on why I became a writer; in fact it’s a line I am fond to throw into conversations about the impotence of politics for social change. “It’s why I became a writer”. Kind of a throwaway catchcry that defines my sense of self-importance (it’s ok, I use the Arrogance Version 2.0 ironic upgrade, not the trashy Windows version)… but I digress. It’s a bit ridiculous playing the struggling writer discourse in Sydney, 2010 when you’re confronted with the story of the Brontë sisters, who faced such colossal institutional barriers to their work one humbles in comparison. How can I complain about a lack of opportunity for emerging writers when these women were literally shunned by publishers because of their gender? Angst about my talent seems hollow when shown a tale of such perseverance and eventual vindication in a world so dominated by the male rank that a woman could scarcely hold any social bearing at all unless she were married, let alone become some of the most celebrated authors of the era.

Biographies for the stage are complex enough without there being three subjects to manage at once. But at least they’re in the same household, which makes things a little easier. The lives themselves are admittedly simple enough, or perhaps modest is a more appropriate term – as Emily, Anne and Charlotte stayed at home with their father, pursuing a quiet love of the written word in poetry and never straying far from the moors of their village in Yorkshire. But this anecdotal tale sidesteps the relative quietude and presents a compelling journey of creative evolution and fractured domesticity, as the three sisters compete with their muse and the influence of the men in their lives, particularly their father and the destructive figure of the brother Branwell. Quite gifted himself, it’s of a considerable irony that the expectations of the male offspring never reached the heights of his sisters’ success, something that perhaps contributed to his madness.

The sisters each have their own set of hopes and foibles; giving a distinctive voice to each in the play is a tall order which the cast manage with a deft, understated approach. Not your traditional heroines, the Brontë sisters carry an internal, quiet strength that is the eventual key to their ascension. This external characterisation of their outward persona is countered by a stalking muse, who appears in a dreamlike expression of the inner turmoil, that urge to write, if not for fame and fortune but some other inexplicable freight that all writers must carry until their works are complete. It’s a constant presence in their lives as the multitude of books that make up the household across the set, this haunting vision of the works in their head, unable to find peace until at last, she is represented in snippets of Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre, like a ghost finally able to rest in the finality of the published word.

This ultimately is the power behind Brontë this isn’t so much a biographical play as an insight into the raison d’être for any writer to continue against the odds- as is said by one of the three: “to have a piece of ourselves out in the world”. It’s the passion behind this weighty theme that shines through from the ensemble cast, delivering the play with humour and intensity in equal measure.

Brontë by Polly Teale plays at the ATYP Studio 1 “Under The Wharf” until August 7. Directed by Paige Rattray, featuring Cooper George Amai, Elizabeth Heaney, Laura Francis, Kipan Rothbury, Ashley Richardson & Jennifer Williams


Entry filed under: Inside Theatre REVIEWS, Sydney THEATRE.


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VICTOR SANCZ vassanc [AT] gmail.com

since 2009

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