Going to the theatre is a potential minefield of inconvenience. Uncomfortable seats, overpriced ice-cream and a mile-long queue for the toilets – how can that compete with the comfort of your living room sofa, home cooking and 666 channels of homogenised fluff on Sky? If you pick a duff show to boot, you’ll probably be sat there (in aforementioned uncomfortable seat) mentally listing these very aggravations, fantasising about your remote control.
If you pick a duff show, that is. When theatre’s good, it beats the anything on your flat-screen TV for drama in its rawest, most exciting and visceral form. Londonist’s newest section Stage Whispers is here to pick the theatrical wheat from the chaff every fortnight. With reviews and the best-of-the-rest round-ups, we’ll ensure that whatever you choose to see on our recommendation, your night out at the theatre will beat a night in of channel-surfing, any day of the week.
“A situation so completely removed from the stir of society. A perfect misanthropist's heaven…”
Emily Brontë’s description of Wuthering Heights fits not only the novel’s eponymous location, but her own family home and the setting for Shared Experience’s new play Brontë.
In Brontë we are drawn into the extraordinary world of novelist and poet sisters Emily (Diane Beck), Charlotte (Fenella Woolgar) and Anne (Charlotte Cusack), their writer and parson father Patrick, and the dissolute brother Branwell, for a bold and dazzlingly theatrical exploration of the real and the imaginary.
Polly Teale’s script explores the lives and deaths of the four siblings through the frustrated passions and literary successes of the women against the repeated failures of Branwell, interwoven with the dramatised sections of their most famous works: Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
Paintings of the Brontë siblings by the artist Paula Rego loom over the stage, portraying the women as ugly and kitchen-bound. The setting highlights the contrast between the external lives of the unmarriageable sisters as frustrated, isolated women bickering over plum pudding; and the rich fantasy of their novels, which haunt the stage in the form of the sisters’ most memorable characters - Jane Eyre’s “madwoman in the attic” and Wuthering Heights’ Cathy.
The play is at its most inventive and moving when the works of the sisters are used to highlight the shortfalls in their own lives. One standout scene gives us Anne, Emily and Charlotte writing together around their kitchen table, assimilating with the characters in their novels as they are moved to heights of passion denied to them in real world.
The production, although excellent, is not entirely flawless – the play does little to explore the character of Anne, whose social commentary novels are often overlooked in comparison with her sisters’ more emotional works despite her contemporary success. Cusack works hard to flesh out the role but at times Anne Brontë feels more of a theatrical device than a fully-formed character.
But undisputedly, Brontë is an outstanding play: literary, intelligent and challenging, using the full power of theatre to remind us of our inner worlds whilst educating us on these unique women - a product of, yet a stark contrast to, their constrictive Victorian world. A talented cast, an intelligent and accessible script, haunting score and affordable tickets (Londonist’s excellent stalls seats are still available at the bargain price of £12) come together to make Brontë one of the theatrical highlights of the year.
Brontë runs until 25th November at the Lyric Hammersmith. For more information and online booking, click here.
Londonist theatre recommendations this fortnight.
Blue Man Group presented by Blue Man group, New London Theatre, Drury Lane, WC2. Music, performance and live art creation by three men covered entirely in blue greasepaint - New York’s favourite painted performance artists in London until March. They did the music for the film Robots, too.
Amato Saltone starring Kittens and Wade presented by The Shunt Collective, Shunt Vaults, nr. London Bridge. The Times dubbed previous show Tropicana as “a minimalist cocktail of sex-and-death, circus sleaze and club concert” – their new show based on noir-thriller writer Cornell Woolrich promises much.
The Receipt presented by Will Almsdale and Chris Branch, BAC, Lavender Hill SW11. Will Almsdale won the Edinburgh Festival’s 2004 Perrier Award for his one-man show Jackson’s Way. Filter Theatre’s Faster, on which Almsdale and Branch both worked, was the surprise hit of 2003. Catch their new play - billed as “Two men. Two filing cabinets. A moog” – at the BAC this month.
Justin Bond and the Freudian Slippers featuring Justin Bond, Too2Much Club, Walker’s Court. Justin Bond of “Kiki & Herb” notoriety is studying in London this year. Presumably these video-cabaret-music performances are to fund tuition fees - beats stacking shelves at night in his local Asda.
Cleansed presented by Oxford Stage Company, Arcola Theatre, Arcola Street E8 Sarah Kane’s most violent and disturbing play is a harrowing story of an asylum where both inmates and staff are sliding further into madness and cruelty. An astonishing play, there’s still no-one to touch Kane for pushing the boundaries of theatre writing.
Image by Robert Day.