Devisors and Performers:Sarah Corbett and Angus Barr
Director: Edward Rapley
As Jane Eyre storms back to the Bristol Old Vic after its triumphant National Theatre run and before its next journey to Hong Kong, there is another celebration of the Bronte’s happening just up the road at the new and improved Wardrobe Theatre.
Three sisters and one (less famous) brother who lived in isolation, and at least according to biography unhappily, wrote gothic romances that changed the face of 19thCentury literature before all passing away relatively young from illness. The Bronte family have long given inspiration to those who work on the stage; there is something in the tales and tragic biography that feels inherently theatrical.
Publick Transport’s work is a melange of a show that takes moments from the novels, parts of the lives and the tropes of gothica, tosses and shakes them together and then mixes it with its own physical clowning to create a show that takes the form of a sketch review. At a fringe-friendly 55 minutes, it is enjoyably witty and inventive but distinctly undernourishing. We learn more about the writers or their lives and the writers’characterswhen taken in isolation, don’t have the pull, the comic charm or the grotesquery of that greatest of Victorian novelists Charles Dickens. We see Jane and Rochester from Jane Eyre, Cathy and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights but for those of us whose knowledge of these books doesn’t go much beyond the crib notes, we can be left feeling a little in the dark. It’s rare to hear a demand for a longer running time in the theatre but this is one that could do with adding another 30 minutes to it.
If the content is not as realised as it could be, its presentation can’t be faulted. Angus Barr resembling a jaundiced Russell Brand and Sarah Corbett are striking stage presences with an ease in their physicality and confidence in their ability to think on their feet, which allows them to break the fourth wall and even hold a mid-show Q&A when they tackle potentially loaded questions with aplomb. There are wonderful visual moments, a book turning into a fluttering bird, the performers using their bodies to represent the howling winds and a scene involving a tap that may already be a favourite piece of staging this year.
So plenty to love in the piece and even more to love in the new Wardrobe Theatre. Having moved to Old Market and pitching into one of the loveliest venues in the city in the Old Market Assembly, it is a space that offers better sight lines for its audience and extra space for emerging companies to play. It finally feels like it deserves the moniker of Bristol’s third theatre.