FRINGE 2013: Theatre – Miss Brontë – Ayers House Museum – 3K

Returning to the Fringe after last year’s successful run of Jane Austen is Dead, Mel Dodge brings Adelaide audiences a window into the life of Charlotte Brontë.

Brontë (Dodge) sits, struggling to find the inspiration to write her next novel. We learn that her beloved sister Emily has died and the ensuing grief has given Charlotte writer’s block. The play intertwines scenes in which Charlotte searches for a possible unpublished manuscript written by Emily, regales us with stories of key moments in her life, reads segments from letters she has sent to her ex-professor (on whom she had an unrequited crush) and draws connections between her own life and selected passages from her most famous work, Jane Eyre.

Dodge has done a good job in combining these various elements into an interesting hour long journey, providing variation to keep the audience engaged, and a clear narrative. Her performance is passionate, though sometimes a little overly dramatic, and she shows the different sides of Brontë well – the independent young woman living in a man’s world, the loving and later grief stricken sister, the inspired authoress.

The greatest problem facing this production is the venue. While Ayers House is certainly the perfect setting for such a story, it is not particularly well designed to cater for a theatre production. With no raked seating or raised stage, the majority of the audience spent the duration of the show craning their necks, trying to catch a glimpse of Dodge. For most of the show we had to be satisfied with a disembodied head peeking out over the top of those in front. Facial expressions and body language were often not able to be seen and consequently it was difficult to engage with the character. This was not helped by the direction of the piece (Lyndee-Jane Rutherford) calling for Brontë to be seated for several portions of the show. For the most part, the sections that were delivered standing used the available space well, but continual circling of the set when Brontë read from Jane Eyre seemed highly unnatural and distracted from the prose.

Despite these drawbacks, this was an interesting show which provides an appealing means by which to learn a bit more about the Brontë sisters. Even though the sight-lines are poor, the content is worthwhile.

Kryztoff Rating: 3K

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