Earlier this month I saw the final show of A Brontë Burlesque, the Send in the Girls show that played at the Roxy Theatre. I remembered seeing a version at Fringe 2012, in a basement space south of Whyte Avenue, but the bigger stage and better-designed auditorium improved the viewing experience a lot. The show was directed by Lana Michelle Hughes. Ellen Chorley and Delia Barnett were returning to the show as producers and performers (playing Emily and Anne Brontë), and the other two performers were new to the show, Chris W Cook as Branwell Brontë and Samantha Duff as Charlotte Brontë the eldest surviving sibling.
The scenes jump around in time, but are announced by the year “It is 1848” or whatever, and I soon got perspective on those dates by comparing them with the death dates of the various characters. And, well, they all die. But they don’t disappear from the stage – the scenes of the latest-surviving character have the spirits of the others clustered around the deathbed.
The interplay of the various combinations of characters was fascinating. (I have several siblings myself, so I recognised some of this, but I hope my manipulations were more benign. And we haven’t run about in our underwear since we were small children playing superheroes, either.) The characters became distinct for me very quickly.
The conventions of burlesque allowed the costume designer (Tessa Stamp) to show us several layers of approximately-period clothing along with coloured draping used as props for the dancers. The dance piece where the three sisters put on men’s dress shirts and ties to portray their literary noms de plume was particularly well done. Each of the performers had a solo dance at some point during the show, and the choreography provided for character reveal as well as artistic allure. The new performer for Branwell, Chris W. Cook, danced his solo with good audience rapport and apparent enjoyment, so it was a little disappointing to me that he didn’t disrobe further than slipping off his tie, dress shirt, and braces, when the female dancers had gone farther.
I can’t remember the previous production well enough to say for sure what is different. The set detail of a portrait with faces that fade in and out (a Matt Schuurman video design detail of course) was in the previous production but it was done better this time.
As several of the characters in the story died of tuberculosis or related lung problems, the stage convention of a bloody handkerchief was used more than once. I do not know whether people in previous eras ever coughed blood and didn’t die, because on stage and screen that convention always means Anyone seeing this now knows this person is about to die. And I saw this device again the other night in Nevermore.