Stunning tale of literature’s most famous sisters

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I must admit that when I heard the Rossendale Players’ next production was a play about the Brontë family, I did fear it might be a touch heavy going.

The much-lauded literary sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne famously didn’t enjoy the happiest of their short lives in the bleak and windswept Haworth of Victorian times.

However, “We Are Three Sisters”, a play by Blake Morrison about these super siblings has more than enough warm, funny and uplifting moments to make this play an enjoyable watch.

It is brought to life on the stage of the Player’s New Millennium Theatre in Waterfoot in glorious fashion with a note-perfect ensemble cast.

This is the “wordiest” and possibly longest Players production I’ve seen, and it’s certainly one of the best.

Players regular Helena Lockett-Soule plays the motherly eldest sister Charlotte in typically bold fashion, while Siobhan Morris played Anne, the youngest of the family, with a combination of innocence and steely determination this early feminist would become famous for after her death.

Players newcomer Sophie Longmire played the remaining sister Emily, with a quiet, shy and stubborn manner, which the middle sister was well-known for.

I longed to hear the characters talk about the inspirations behind their tragically few novels – Emily only lived long enough to pen the classic “Wuthering Heights” – but none were mentioned explicitly in the play.

That said, there were some very atmospheric howling wind sound effects blowing into the family’s parsonage from the moors, no doubt one of the inspirations for Wuthering Heights.

Comic relief is provided in the shape of several supporting characters including Maureen Jackson as the straight-speaking housekeeper Tabby, Stephen Woods as the camp and colourful teacher, and Rebecca Crampton as the vivacious and adulterous Lydia Robinson.

The remaining, less well-known sibling – the drunken, opium-addicted black sheep of the family Branwell was played well by Patrick Duffy.

A talented artist and poet in his own right, Branwell became embroiled in an affair with the married Mrs Robinson and also ran up huge gambling debts.

Indeed, this forms part of the tension of the play as it no doubt did in real life. That and the sisters’ attempts to have their work published in the male dominated world of the time.

The play makes much mention of this and makes much of their dreams and aspirations, tragically cut short. Their male pen names of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell a note to their struggle.

Another world-weary character in the play is provided by Martyn Frost, as the downbeat local doctor, whose unenviable job caring for the multitudinous sick of Haworth clearly took its toll.

Another love interest, albeit one more upbeat than the desperate doctor comes in the form of John Spencer as the curate Arthur. His flowery demeanour contrasts starkly with the dour doctor.

The cast is completed by Jim Rowe, the dry patriarch Patrick, blissfully unaware of his daughters’ literary prowess.

Fans of Brontë, and those who have never read one of their novels, will love this production which has just the right balance of pathos and humour.

It runs tonight (Friday) and closes tomorrow at the New Millennium Theatre, Burnley Road East, Waterfoot, at 7-30pm.