Entering the stage in eerie darkness with pale faces and gaunt expressions, Angus Barr and Sarah Corbett of Publick Transport invite us to come with them on a journey to Yorkshire – as villagers or audience – as they deconstruct and challenge the Bronte myth. Appearing in a flurry and panic with almost possessed eyes, they appear slightly in awe of the Vault Festival audience and the fantasy of the characters they play.
Born out of love for Charlotte (and Kate Bush), We Are Bronte is an irreverent deconstruction both challenges the Bronte story as it reflects it back. Slipping in and out of character, bickering between themselves and speaking to the audience, they intertwine scenes from family’s lives on bleak moors with the scenes and character from their novels. The stage is lit as they explain, and plunges into darkness as they perform.
Symbols and tropes of gothic fiction are well known and familiar, and with only a handful of props and few words they tell tales of woe, tears and resilience, all wrapped up in wind, whips and madness. With creative use of pieces of cloth and cellophane they engage in an absurd extension of the emotion, metaphor and meaning that pervades the sisters’ fiction. An early ‘embodiment of wind’ for example plays with the notion of pathetic fallacy. As usual the rumbles of trains enhance performance in the Vaults, particularly when strange noises play such a role in fiction. Combining physical slapstick, mime, with random quotes and atmospheric music they execute themes rather than particulars.
The pair are not here to tell a story, or play a character, but instead their episodic production sees them play an amalgam of characters that owes as much to the reverence paid to the family’s nineteenth century existence as it does to twentieth century gothic horror movies and set school texts. In its episodic portrayal we see Cathy searching for Heathcliff on wild and windswept moors, stoic Jane asserting that she is no bird, us questioning who is the mad woman, and everyone wet from rain and dying from tuberculosis.
This isn’t a biographical retelling, and certainly not for purists, but then you don’t tend to come to the Vault Festival or fringe theatre if that is what you are seeking. Instead, this is playful, exploratory, and fun – something you wonder whether the Brontes themselves may have been missing at times.