POWERFUL PERFORMANCE, SKILFULLY DIRECTED
Written & performed by Mel Dodge
Directed by Lyndee-Jane Rutherford
Presented by Brave Theatre
at Circa Two, Wellington
Until 15 Mar 2014
[1hr 15 mins (no interval)]
Reviewed by Laurie Atkinson, 24 Feb 2014
originally published in The Dominion Post
Though it opened on the first night of the Festival, Miss Bronte isn't part of it. However it could well be, for Mel Dodge's outstanding performance and Lyndee-Jane Rutherford's polished direction have produced something special with this solo play about Charlotte Bronte.
Charlotte takes the audience into her world of the tiny vicarage on the bleak Yorkshire Moors and to Brussels with Emily where they worked as teachers, and through the traumatic days with their alcoholic, laudanum addicted brother, Branwell, and his death, followed three months later by Emily's and then in the following year by Anne's.
Only Branwell didn't use writing as an escape from their cloistered lives, but his sisters threw all their desires, emotions and frustrations into poems and novels, often barely bothering to disguise the personal details.
In the play Charlotte tosses papers, letters and books (whose covers are also unobtrusive chronological guides for the audience) all over the floor in anger, frenzy, unrequited love, and comic emphasis throughout the play's 75 minutes.
Charlotte's letters, poems and novels, as well those of her sisters, and comments by her critics have been judiciously filleted and used to illuminate the events of their lives, and to expose Charlotte's heartbreaking emotional life, of which we are given a bitter-sweet and unusual coda as we leave the theatre.
But what comes across most strongly and very powerfully is the strength of character necessary to cope with, as Charlotte puts it, the dependency of single women. Though most Victorians agreed with Poet Laureate Robert Southey, an admirer of Charlotte, when he wrote that "Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, and it ought not to be", she persevered with her writing all her life.
Mel Dodge's performance burns bright with this perseverance and stoicism as her eyes express her anger, sorrow and determination and makes the play so much more than a lesson in English Lit.
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