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Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Theatre Review: We Are Three Sisters at The Lowry, Salford

As previously noted, I have a weakness for booking theatre tickets during the week, when I am too tired to do anything other than slump languidly in my seat, waiting for it to be over. And obviously, having noted such a weakness, I have learnt a valuable lesson from my own life-mistakes and made sure not to do it again. Well, apart from last night that is, when I attended the opening night of We Are Three Sisters at The Lowry, entirely unavoidably, for the following very good reasons:

- We Are Three Sisters is a new play about the Bronte sisters, two of whom have written books that I am either currently teaching or have taught in the past. Therefore, the evening counts as research for work, and not as a night out, in any way.

- The play has been written by Blake Morrison, an author I admire. He is from Yorkshire, but this cannot technically be held against him on this occasion, as the play is about ladies who are, after all, from Yorkshire.

- The play is a Northern Broadsides production, and they are always excellent (despite, again, hailing from across the Pennines); their 2010 production of The Canterbury Tales (also at The Lowry) was splendid, and no doubt had many a hopeful man enquiring whether they too might swive in trees and stick their backsides through windows.

- The Lowry is a great venue, with a proven track record for booking interesting productions. And on a less artistic note, we always get to eat at Lime beforehand, where Mr Liz spends a good three minutes pretending to study the menu before deciding - again - that he simply cannot resist the Bookmaker's Sandwich; I truly live in fear of the day they decide to take it off the menu, anticipating tears, tantrums and truculence.

In short, we went along with high expectations; well, one of us did at least - Mr Liz enjoyed his Bookmaker's Sandwich, but was then saddened to find that the Man Utd game was just starting on the big screens in Lime as he was being dragged off to watch some "Bronte nonsense". In the end, we both enjoyed it, even the man who spent the first few minutes sniggering at there being a character called Tabby and asking whether this part would be played by a specially trained acting cat. (It wasn't).

The play opens with the three surviving Bronte sisters having already penned the novels that would become so famous - Anne and Emily have found a publisher, and Charlotte is on the hunt for one. Being women, of course, they have written under male pseudonyms, sure that their work would not be taken seriously if anyone were to find out the authors' true identities. Meanwhile, brother Branwell - not without talent himself - is busy drinking, gambling, and carrying on with his married employer, the magnificently vulgar Mrs Robinson who, for me, was the star of the show; Becky Hindley deserves full credit for creating such an appallingly enticing character whilst wearing the most unpleasant dress yet seen on these shores.

In fact, the acting is superb across the board. The three sisters are clearly drawn and played utterly as individuals rather than the amorphous mass of Bronte-ness they have come to represent for trepidatious literature students: Charlotte (Catherine Kinsella) is sensible and dowdy on the outside, but fiery and passionate on the inside; Emily (Sophia Di Martino) is morbid, and poetic, and solitary; Anne, the baby of the family, is played by Rebecca Hutchinson as desperate to work and experience new things, finding the quiet life at Haworth more than a little limited.

Not that they don't have a stream of male admirers beating a hopeful path to their door, including an incompetent doctor who hits the bottle when it becomes clear that Anne doesn't return his love, an idiotic school master determined to get the girls to work at his school, and a slimy curate who fancies his luck with anything in a skirt, using the same tired lines on whichever Bronte sister happens to be around at any given time. Amusement is also provided by Duggie Brown as Patrick, the father of the Bronte sisters, although some of this humour is unintentional as his supposedly Irish accent veers wildly from coast to coast during his performance (which is, nonetheless, extremely likeable).

In fact, I only have one quibble (well two, if you count taking along a husband intent on making cat jokes): twenty to eleven is really much too late for a play to finish on a school night. I certainly won't, ahem, be making that mistake again.

- We Are Three Sisters by Blake Morrison is on at The Lowry until Saturday 24th October, with tickets priced from just £16 - full details and booking on The Lowry website.

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