21/02/2014 - 15/03/2014
Brontë Finally Finds Herself in Wellington
‘A riveting performance… superb!’ – Rip it up Adelaide
Charlotte Brontë’s closest friend Mary Taylor made the four month journey from London to Wellington in 1845, to make Cuba Street her home. Brontë described her personal loss ‘as if a great planet fell out of the sky’. Now at last Brontë will make the trip to Wellington, channelled through actress Mel Dodge, and directed by award-winning Lyndee Jane Rutherford.
Charlotte Brontë remains one of the literary darlings of the world, the celebrated writer of Jane Eyre. Writer & performer Mel Dodge brings her to life in this captivating, one-woman show Miss Brontë, which after a successful season at Ayers House Museum in Adelaide, will be making its Wellington debut at Circa Theatre in February 2014.
In Miss Brontë, we are introduced to Charlotte, alone after the death of her siblings. She is filled with hope that her sister Emily may have left a draft for a new novel somewhere amongst her precious papers and she dreams of seeing her sister’s words one last time. In her search for this manuscript she takes the audience through the story of her and Emily’s remarkable careers; their secret loves, tenacity and personal tragedies.
“It’s a play for anyone who is a romantic, who knows what love is and unrequited love, and the pain of it and the beauty of it; and also the beauty of actually having your dreams attained. Actually achieving what no-one expects you to achieve,” says Dodge.
Dodge created the work using Brontë’s letters, diaries and the many biographical works discussing Charlotte’s life. Having completed a literature degree, she said she “fell in love with that whole era” – another of Dodge’s plays Jane Austen is Dead has had successful sell out seasons in Wellington, Adelaide and Melbourne.
A play for theatre and literature lovers alike – don’t miss this opportunity to get an insight into the enigmatic Charlotte Brontë.
‘Her characterisaton is superbly realised… a high quality production.’ – Glam Adelaide
‘It’s fascinating to hear about the true characters that inspired the fiction.’ – Advertiser Adelaide
Brave Theatre presents Miss Brontë
Performances: 21 Feb – 15 March (Tuesday – Saturday 7.30pm, Sunday 4.30)
Circa Two – Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki Street, Wellington
Tickets: $39 for Adults, $33 for Concessions and $25 for Under 25s
Bookings: Online at www.circa.co.nz or by calling 04 801 7992
Dramaturg - Lyndee-Jane Rutherford
Set & graphic design - Marisa Cuzzolaro
Lighting design - Glenn Ashworth
Costume design - Letty Macphedran
Stage manager & operator - Deb McGuire
Publicity - Debbie Fish & David Goldthorpe
Set construction - Ruth Carr & Marisa Cuzzolaro
1hr 15 mins (no interval)
Perceptive, intelligent, fiery, romantic and poignant
Review by John Smythe 24th Feb 2014
Having declared Jane Austen is Dead in 2008 and again last year, Mel Dodge has now exhumed Charlotte Brontë for our theatrical pleasure. The text of her thoroughly researched and cleverly structured play, Miss Brontë, is 75 percent Brontë, the rest is imagined, and it’s all brought together in her a richly layered solo performance, directed with flair by Lyndee-Jane Rutherford.
There were, of course three ‘Miss Brontë’ authors: Charlotte, Emily and Anne, born in that order in the first two decades of the 19th century. The play is named for the way Charlotte introduces themselves to their publisher, George Smith, in order to prove they are not their pseudonyms – Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell – let alone one and the same person, as some acerbic critic has asserted.
As we take our seats, a haunted looking, severely corseted and crinoline-clad Charlotte, buttoned up to the neck (costume design by Letty Macphedran), is writing in a tiny notebook. Also tiny are the framed pictures that adorn the off-white walls that stretch either side of a fireplace in the parsonage at Haworth (on the West Yorkshire moors), where every surface is covered with papers and books (set design by Marisa Cuzzolaro).
This sense of smallness and isolation proves a dramatic counterpoint to the liberation she and her sisters achieve through their writing. The play opens with Charlotte recalling the challenge she sets herself to write a heroine “as small and plain as myself” who will be as interesting as the beauteous women of their stories – thus: Jane Eyre.
Amid its treasure trove of insights into the Brontës’ lives and times, Miss Brontë goes on to contrast the romance of the intense and finally fulfilled love the governess Jane Eyre held for her employer Mr Rochester, with the doomed reality of Charlotte’s secret love for her Belgian teacher Constantin Héger. With his wife, Héger ran a school in Brussels which the sisters attended in 1842. He invited Charlotte back to teach English and became her pupil himself.
Charlotte’s older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, both died of tuberculosis in childhood, having suffered from hunger and cold at the school she used as a model for Lowood School in Jane Eyre. She also lost Anne, Emily and their brother Branwell to consumption; their passings poignantly illustrated using a set of toy soldiers. (Their mother had died soon after Anne was born. Their father, an Anglican curate, and poet, writer and polemicist, was rarely home, it seems, and would outlive them all, after Charlotte’s death at 38.)
Little wonder, then, that Charlotte is suffering writer’s block (not that she calls it that). It seems, despite our regular excursions into Jane Eyre, robustly rendered by Ms Dodge, and the constantly intriguing revelations about the sisters’ lives and literary careers, peppered with strong social commentary and including a surprising letter to Charlotte from William Makepeace Thackeray, we are destined to descend into a dark and lonely pit of despair. But no.
The late discovery of an unopened letter sets Charlotte on a lively quest to find a lost manuscript. Physical chaos ensues and the dramatic denouement is simultaneously triumphant, tragic and riddled with moral dilemma. But Charlotte lives on to envision, and begin, her next novel, Villette, in which her beloved Héger will live on.
In the face of published criticism of her for not being feminine enough as a woman writer, Mel Dodge gives Charlotte an impassioned outburst. Those who are inspired, as many must be after seeing this play, to delve further into the life and work of Charlotte Brontë and read Villette – named for the fictitious town ‘abroad’, where Lucy Snowe goes to teach in a boarding school – will further relish its exploration of isolation, the repression of individual desire by ‘society’ and the triumph of her strength of will in achieving independence and fulfilment.
Perceptive, intelligent, fiery, romantic, poignant and packed into a potent 75 minutes, Miss Brontë deserves to grace stages at festivals around the world. If you’re in Wellington, don’t miss this chance to discover her story and stories.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Powerful performance, skilfully directed
Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 24th Feb 2014
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.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer