Friday, 18 November 2011

We Are Three Clever People.

Are there some stories that essentially can't be dramatised? Last May I had an uninspiring evening at the Richmond Theatre watching Shared Experience explore with little dramatic punch the relationship between the Bronte sisters and their characters. Polly Teale's script had strong intent in that it showed how fantasy helps us escape claustrophobic circumstance but having made its point the play faded.

Tonight at the Rose in Kingston it was the turn of another acclaimed touring company Northern Broadsides to find a way into the dark and lonely world of Haworth Parsonage with their production of We Are Three Sisters. Again it made for a long night.

In someways the piece is a triumph of conceptual elegance over good storytelling. Writer Blake Morrison and critic Susannah Clapp realised, over dinner a decade ago, that the Bronte sister's story had some obvious parallels with Chekhov's The Three Sisters. They floated the idea to Broadside's Artistic Director Barrie Rutter and a script was developed.

It's a bold idea, but it's realisation lacks conviction. Essentially it's Chekhov's play (without soldiers) set in rural Yorkshire, but the doggedly enforced biographical detail needed to replace Olga, Masha and Irina with Charlotte, Emily and Anne and unsubtle grafting of fact and fiction felt incredibly self-conscious and at time even precocious. Charlotte, searching for a publisher, stares out and parodies Irina's famous lines on Moscow with a cry of 'To London! To London! To London!' A looser relationship between the two stories would have allowed the audience to enjoy making their own connections.

I really admire Susannah Clapp, both as an editor and critic. Barrie Rutter has forged a fantastically muscular, no nonsense approach to classic plays through Northern Broadsides and Blake Morrison's eulogies to his parents are amongst the most poetic memoirs ever written; but something about this meeting of minds has served to flatten what could have been an interesting restaging into a rather predictable academic exercise.

No comments: