Well, there is a pants down moment in The Full Brontë, and it would almost be a pity if there wasn’t one with a show title like that. The production is bold enough to begin with the sort of ‘health warning’ that comes just before a party political broadcast on television: there will be, we are duly informed, audience participation. As ever with shows of a rather rambunctious nature, sit at the front row at your peril, even if front of house is requesting the audience fills up from the front. (Perhaps especially so.)
Brannie (Sharon Andrew) acts as ‘the ensemble’, as well as a range of other roles both on and off-stage, supporting Maria (Rebecca Mordan). The latter, as a character, gradually and inadvertently reveals that her love of all things Brontë is not as prominent as her desire to be taken seriously as an actor. Maria’s attempts to portray significant characters and events the notable works of the Brontës only demonstrate the perils of ignoring one’s limits. Brannie, meanwhile (apparently named after Branwell Brontë, himself named after his mother’s maiden surname) finds herself multitasking more often than not: Maria lists her as (amongst other things), “SM, DSM and ASM” – stage manager, plus she is her own deputy and assistant.
Perhaps with a little more regularity than was strictly necessary, the narrative strays from the life, times and writings of the literary sisters, though the comic effect is strong overall. A moment of tension arises from Brannie’s insistence that Cornwall is really the land of the Brontës, as the writers’ mother hailed from there: for Maria, as the sisters were born and raised in Yorkshire, it would conventionally follow that that’s where they are from. The tension between Maria and Brannie never fully dissipates, ebbing and flowing throughout proceedings.
And what of the audience participation? It’s not, as it turns out, nearly as relentless as one might have expected, and a fair amount of it is collective – the phrase ‘we’re all in it together’ came to mind. Some singing and even actor-musicianship adds extra dynamic layers to the production, with the inclusion of tunes made famous in the record charts, including one by Kate Bush (‘Wuthering Heights’ – geddit?) and, for the simple fact that the band Black Lace hail from Yorkshire, their song ‘We’re Having A Gang Bang’.
Not all Brontë enthusiasts, I suspect, will be impressed by the lack of direct relevance these sorts of antics have to the celebrated writers, and a degree of familiarity with the Brontës would be beneficial to get the maximum enjoyment, though I hasten to add it is still possible to follow what is going on even without having done any background reading. Rather like the play The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), this show has ways of incorporating an entire canon of literary output in the course of an evening’s entertainment. So yes, it’s The Full Brontë, just about, with a good audience rapport and some wry witticisms to boot.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Roll Up, Roll Up!
Join hosts Maria (glamour puss, academic, thespian) and her assistant Brannie (dog’s body, ensemble cast, backstage crew) in their chaotic attempt to homage the Bronte family!
Combining comedy, storytelling, music, and games, this show of wuthering delights is ‘the anarchic love child of French and Saunders and Hinge and Brackett!’ (Three Weeks). A delight for literature aficionados and theatre fans alike – and of course every devoted Brontëphile!
Contains: “A very innocent bottom based joke but no swears and nothing offensive or blue!”
Writer: Rebecca Mordan
Director: Sharon Andrew
Performers: Rebecca Mordan and Sharon Andrew
The Full Bronte
30 October – 3 November 2018