Underdog: The Other Other Brontë Review: Kick-ass Northern Stage prod | Theatre | Entertainment

The three sisters of Sarah Gordon’s new play are the Battling Brontës – Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Attempting to write themselves out of poverty, they ended up competing with each other for fortune, if not fame, employing male pseudonyms.

In a typically kick-ass Northern Stage production, director Natalie Ibu brings the women to vivid, raucous life with the simplest theatrical elements: a wild garden that rises to reveal a bare stage beneath, music hall knockabout, coconut halves for horses hooves and audience engagement.

“What’s your favourite Brontë novel?” challenges scarlet-clad Charlotte (Gemma Whelan) on her entrance as we wonder whether to risk saying Wuthering Heights instead of Jane Eyre.

After their brother Branwell’s (James Phoon) death, Charlotte’s bullies youngest sister Anne (Rhiannon Clements) without mercy, belittling her attempt at being a governess for the ghastly children of the local gentry.

Meanwhile, Emily (Adele James) acts as mediator between the two. They act out parts of their novels to each other – the sequence dramatising Anne’s torrid Gothic romance The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is hilarious.

The real test comes when the London publishers react to the idea that women are capable of writing commercially viable novels.

Arresting performances from Whelan as the deeply unsympathetic Charlotte, Clements as the independent-but-withdrawn Anne and James as the stoical Emily keep Gordon’s spirited play alight.

It uncovers the flesh and blood females behind the Brontë myth while interrogating entrenched patriarchy in a broad satire punctuated with amusing anachronistic dialogue.

It left me aching to get my hands on a copy of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall asap. 


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