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Bravura Brontes reach unforgettable heights

Bronte, Loft Theatre, Leamington, until June 16

Hiding under a cloak of invisibility, the Bronte sisters came to question why they felt their voices needed to be heard. The answer, as this extraordinary play suggests, was ‘to make life bearable’. Their life, at joyless Haworth on the Yorkshire Moors, was one of poverty, repression and disturbing emotional angst. Don’t expect a potted biography of the spinster trio who took Victorian literary society by storm. Polly Teale’s theoretical analysis probes the complex physical and mental factors which could have been the catalyst to their success. As such, it’s a formidable challenge to company and audience alike, and only a production as strong and compelling as we have here from director Martin Cosgrif can make it truly sizzle. It slides effectively in and out of the author’s wickedly clever identity game as three actresses in rehearsal assume the characters of Charlotte, Emily and Anne. They, in turn, live out the fantasies of their famous fictional people.

The first act is demanding in every respect, the second eases the path to ultimate clarity, the whole is a commanding and unforgettable theatrical accomplishment. The success lies with direction which is constantly fluid and observant and with Richard Moore’s set design which is magnificently atmospheric in its eye for detail. It’s only a pity that some striking back-projection work has to be visually curtailed. Then there are the performances, superb, with all the signs of intensive and rewarding rehearsal development. Tara Lacey’s Charlotte has all the finer feelings of a woman fighting off the shackles of her environment. A scene in which she berates her drunken, dissolute brother Branwell is splendidly realised. The contrasts with her sisters are hugely effective, Karen Scott giving a nice sharp edge to an outwardly tougher Emily and Julia Findlay finding the gentler nuances of Anne. They are ably supported by Jack Sargent as the unstable Branwell and Mark Crossley who scores deliciously with two key roles, even though his brief venture as Mr Rochester does not quite hit the mark. For countless reasons, the play – and this performance in particular – will linger in the mind.

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