The Brontës: A Musical – The Space London

Reviewer - Sonny Waheed

Writers  – Katie Palmer, Lucas Tahiruzzaman Syed and Sarah Zeigler

Director – Victoria Hadel

The Brontë siblings have been the subject of more biographies, documentaries, plays, and even musicals, than one could imagine. The combination of the greatness of their work, their short lives, even by 1800’s standards, and the fact that they were all from one family based in remote Yorkshire, all add to the mystique of and interest in this family.

The Brontës: A Musical gives us the briefest skip through the lives of the four siblings. The show starts mid-thunderstorm with the Brontë children hiding in fear and playing games to take their minds off the outside terrors. These games rapidly emerge to story telling and we get a glimpse of how their creativity might have been formed.

We jump forward some years and those story games turn into diaries and poems, and then emerge into novels, or in the case of Bramwell (James Tudor Jones), the sole Brontë brother, painting. Timelines are all a bit of a blur in the show. There’s no understanding at all if we’ve progressed through a year or 10. Whilst this doesn’t overly impact the narrative, it does give one the need to pause and reframe the narrative every so often.

We progress though the siblings’ lives, through to the publishing of their breakthrough novels (Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey, and Jane Eyre), and then onto the demise and untimely deaths of Charlotte’s three younger siblings.

The heart of the show are these sisters. Charlotte (Anya Williams) is presented headstrong, driven and, potentially, manipulative. Under her motivation, do the others seek to have their works published. Emily (Megan Henson) has taken on the maternal role, especially in regard to their brother Bramwell, who comes across as a spoilt child. And the youngest, Anne (Emma Cobby), is the pragmatist of the clan.

It would not be an overstatement to say that each of the siblings could easily have a show dedicated to themselves, so when combining all four stories together, there’s going to be compromise. In The Brontës, that compromise comes from a lack of character development and cursory narrative.

The core cast play their roles very well as do the support cast, who take on a range of supporting roles. However, the overall narrative is scant on detail and structure. It’s a bit like being on an open-top tour bus of a city. You’re ticking off things, but never really seeing them. Here, all the major life events are there, but like the tourist on the bus, you’re just gliding past them and not getting any detail.

This is further frustrated by the musical numbers in the show, which ultimately derail the narrative and slow it down. Musically its contemporary stylings slightly jar against the 1800’s setting. It’s tonal driven rather than melodic, with polytonal vocals over a simple dissonant trio of piano, clarinet and flute. If you can imagine some of the chattier Sondheim songs, you won’t be far off. Music stylings aside, the songs in the show further alienate the view from the narrative by focussing on the more mundane parts of the story, like a conversation with a postman, or playing games as children. So rather than progressing the narrative the songs act more like an unwanted comma, giving pause where really you want movement.

The above said, The Brontës is a very watchable show. Victoria Hadel directs with confidence, and despite it being a bit laboured in parts, it gives us a teasingly cursory peek into a remarkable family. It will leave you wanting more, just not more of the same.

Runs until August 20 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

The Brontës, very abridged.

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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