Nick Le Mesurier reviews Brontë at the Loft Theatre, Leamington
It’s grim up north. On the moors above Haworth the Brontë family live out their lives. Day passes day, one much like another. The three sisters and their brother, survivors of a family that once consisted of eight, live with their father, aware of – one might say awaiting – the doom that is always close at hand. Close by are the mills, dirty dangerous places where a man might see his thirties, if he’s lucky. The Brontës weren’t as poor as many, but still they succumbed to the ills of the time: childhood mortality, tuberculosis, alcohol or opium poisoning.
What set them apart of course was their extraordinary powers of imagination. One could hardly expect a more unpromising place for literary genius to emerge, and from women too, in an age when they were expected to keep up the domestic role and no more. Yet it did. The stale claustrophobic atmosphere of the parsonage fuelled their fantasies and by some remarkable combination of genes and genius brought it to fruition through reading, literary dedication and, one might say, desperation.
Polly Teale’s play, Brontë, explores the phenomenon of the Brontës. We see their squabbles, their yearnings, their disappointments turned into great art before our eyes. The fantasy figures of Bertha Kitts and Cathy Earnshaw haunt their musings on stage as they prey upon their brother’s debauched and short-lived life for their own experience of passion.
Martin Cosgrif directs a play that is full of shadows, relentless in its exploration of the sources of their literary genius. There are few laughs, but by ‘eck its beautifully played, moving and powerful too.
* Brontë runs until Saturday June 16. Visit loft-theatre.co.uk to book.