REVIEW: Bronte; The Muni Theatre, Colne

A group of actors powerfully depicted the lives of the Brontë family, which was ravaged by death, mental illness and substance addiction.

Wednesday, 2nd May 2018, 2:55 pm
Updated Wednesday, 2nd May 2018, 3:01 pm
Matt Holmes and Claire Foster depicted the harrowing impact of mental illness as siblings Branwell and Emily. (s)

Indeed, Pendle Borderline Theatre Company presented a moving staging of Polly Teale's play, Brontë, which examines the lives of sisters Anne, Charlotte and Emily.

Living on top of one another in their Haworth family home, the three writers are held back by the gender norms of the 19th Century.

But their talents are further sidelined when their alcoholic brother Branwell, hailed as the family prodigy, returns home in disgrace.

Ayla Munro playing the obedient sister Anne.

Rosie Butler made for a strong leading actress as Charlotte, the eldest of the sisters.

She had fantastic stage presence and nailed the emotional scenes as the conflicted sister caught between her ambition and family duties, a woman who was suppressed by both societal expectations and her own insecurities.

Claire Foster played the part of Emily with great sensitivity, capturing her descent into depression with fabulous control and skill, and showcasing a strong understanding of the impact of the disease.

It made for several heart-breaking scenes.

Mike Craine's character Patrick poured all his hopes into his artistic son Branwell, who was played by Matt Holmes.

Ayla Munro was endearing as the people-pleasing Anne and had excellent poise throughout while Matt Holmes demonstrated excellent range as Branwell, particularly shining during his drunken moments and haunting fall into madness.

Last, but not least, Mike Craine offered strong support as the siblings' father Patrick and neighbour Arthur Bell Nichols.

What was particularly impressive about this play was the way in which it illustrated the enduring relevancy of the Brontë tale in the modern world.

Mental illness, addiction, family conflict and even the repression of women continue to shatter lives today.

Rosie Butler plays the conflicted Charlotte, who as the eldest Bront sister, must carry the weight of the family's burdens. (s)

The play zooms in on the complexities of the sisters' brief and broken lives: their writing dreams; their loss and grief; and their literary success and failures.

The focus is shifted away from historically realistic costumes and language, and the spotlight is brighter on the complex and at times dysfunctional relationship between the family members.

Directors Lesley Playfer and Hilary Foster and their production team played with Teale's original tale and threw cinematic video footage created by Paul Hartley and starring Rachel Bailey and Matt Holmes into the mix.

This made the Brontë's literary world and characters within their novels more accessible to a wider audience.

All of this drew me in, making the characters more relatable and, in effect, landing a more powerfully emotional blow.