Writers: Sophia Hatfield and Lisa Cagnacci
Director: Lisa Cagnacci
The Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough has been supporting its excellent production of Jane Eyre with a series of events making up a Brontë Festival. The only one of these that takes the form of an actual dramatic performance is I Am No Bird, a one-hour reimagined Brontë story by Stute Theatre in association with the Stephen Joseph Theatre and Brontë Parsonage Museum which slots in for five performances at the end of the run of Jane Eyre.
Performed by three talented actor-musicians, it’s pleasant enough, but doesn’t really add much to the Brontë myth, except the information that Emily was a good baker! Similarly, the story of feminine empowerment doesn’t strike new ground, though the selection of some of the worst reviews reminds us that Victorian values were not all they’re cracked up to be. One quotation about the impossibility of women writing forms a neat opening for a song.
The premise for the show is that Sophia Hatfield, playing Charlotte, has recruited Claire-Marie Seddon (Emily) and Emma Swan (Anne). They begin bonneted and demure singing a nice little song and are launched on a series of quotations when Emily decides she’s had enough. Anne eventually admits her dislike for the costumes which are discarded and we are ready for an alternative take – but what should it be?
So we get snippets of Brontë life, reinterpreted imaginatively: Branwell comes clumping in from the pub, made up of a mop and wellies while Seddon makes farting noises on her euphonium; the words of the critics are turned into paper birds which attack Emily. In between times Anne’s phone goes off and Charlotte and Emily argue. Eventually they decide that the place to understand the Brontës is the moorland by the parsonage.
Lisa Cagnacci’s direction is nicely economical, Sophia Simensky’s set a clever mix of 19th century parlour and bird cage. Sophia Hatfield’s music – from hip-hop to folk music – is not especially memorable, but well performed, with accompaniments ranging from fiddle and flute to trumpet and accordion.
Sophia Hatfield – no doubt deliberately – is a bit irritating as Charlotte with her sniffy primness. Claire-Marie Seddon is very much the modern girl, argumentative and full of energy. Emma Swan, spared the confrontations of the other two, is drolly amusing. It’s a noble attempt at a new version of the Brontës, updated and feminist, but it lacks the required sharpness.
Runs until 30th April 2022.