The winds on Haworth Moor are fierce. They carried all the way to the Quays theatre last night for the new play about the Brontë sisters, by Blake Morrison. Or possibly about Chekhov’s fictional sisters.
Blake has blended the two sister groups so that you can’t tell where one ends or the other begins. You don’t need to know anything about either the Brontës or Chekhov’s play, but if you do, you’ll notice all the details he has stuck in places throughout.
There was a little publicised post show talk in the Quay stalls, where actor and director Barrie Rutter told us about some of the background, before he was joined by all three sisters plus brother Branwell, their father and the curate for some personal thoughts on the Brontës and Haworth and the play.
Last night was their first time on a traditional stage. Previously they have performed the play in a different shape, and in two weeks’ time they will switch to yet another. It takes them at least one night to get used to a new way of doing it.
Blake’s long-standing fascination with the sisters shows, although he has also used artistic license and it’s not all true. The curate for instance, is an invention, and the doctor and the teacher are straight out of Chekhov.
We met the sisters at home in the parsonage. It was Anne’s birthday, and their home was invaded by both the doctor, who was in love with her, and the teacher, who was busy handing out copies of a little book he had written. The new curate arrived and started sweet-talking the ladies. And there really was a Mrs Robinson. She was Branwell’s love interest, and she wore green, and she behaved rather shockingly for Haworth, which turned out not to be like Harrogate in the end.
The servant Tabby wavered from the role of almost mother to the children, to that of someone who was afraid she wouldn’t be allowed to stay. I was struck by the mention of the black spots on the potatoes, which is something I’ve always remembered from Mrs Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte.
Emily, Charlotte and Anne talked endlessly about their dreams for themselves and their writing. Charlotte and Anne went off to London, while Emily stayed at home, angry about all the attention. She didn’t want to write another book and she didn’t want to be discovered.
But for all their differences, they were together at the end, only days before Branwell’s death, which was so soon followed by the others’. But they said, ‘there’ll be our books, and in the end we will be remembered.’
Yes, ladies, you are. And according to Barrie Rutter your lives were not as ‘bloody gloomy’ as Mrs Gaskell made out.
(On at the Lowry for the rest of the week. And I would have loved to have given an unwanted Victorian ornament for them to break. Just didn’t have one spare. They emailed round to ask for ornaments to break, needing one per performance.)