This remarkably informative and entertaining little show is touring widely and definitely a ‘must-see’ for Bronte aficionados and especially for the Bronte-curious. Written and performed by Mel Dodge, Miss Bronte is an engaging look into the lives of the Bronte sisters from the point of view of the last surviving sister, Charlotte, who now lives in an isolated parsonage on the Yorkshire moors with only her father for company.
The audience enter the theatre to discover a crinoline-clad Charlotte Bronte busily engaged in making notes in a tiny notebook. Every surface in the room she occupies is covered with papers and books. A fire glows in the fireplace, and framed pictures and books adorn the white walls, either side of the fireplace.
As the house lights dim, Charlotte fixes her audience with a steely gaze and addressing them directly, confides that her publisher has asked her to prepare a preface for a reprinted volume of her sister’s novels Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey. However, she has challenged herself to write a novel with a heroine “as small and plain as myself”.
Confiding details of her childhood, and her current situation, she uses toy soldiers to represent each, describing the deaths of her sisters Maria and Elizabeth, who died of tuberculosis in childhood, and of Anne and Emily, who together with her dissolute, but adored, brother, Branwell, all died of consumption.
Revealing her secret love for her Belgian teacher, Constantin Heger, to whom she had written love letters for years, she reads excerpts from Jane Eyre to illustrate the similarities of her situation to Jane Eyre’s love for her employer, Mr. Rochester.
Mel Dodge’s Charlotte is no shrinking violet. Lyndee-Jane Rutherford’s busy direction has her constantly throwing papers in the air, books to the floor, or striding purposefully around the room looking for supporting documentation to support her revelations. The play is crammed with fascinating details, obviously the result of extensive research by Dodge, much of it perhaps more of interest to Brontephiles than the uninitiated.
But Dodge’s tour-de-force performance, during which her Charlotte covers the whole gamut of emotions, ensures that the constant stream of revelations never becomes tedious. Indeed this superbly crafted little production, with its beautifully realised set and costumes, and Dodge’s dazzling performance, is an absorbing example of storytelling at its very best.
Director: Lyndee-Jane Rutherford Writer / Performer: Mel Dodge Costume Design: Letty Macphedran Set Design: Marisa Cuzzolaro Presented by: Brave Theatre
Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, 253 Crawford Street, Queanbeyan
Performance: Thursday 8 September 2016
Season: 8 – 10 September 2016
Image: Mel Dodge as Charlotte Bronte (supplied)
Review: Bill Stephens