Review: The Brontes of Dunwich Heath (and Cliff), Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich until January 11. Then from January 14-15 at Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge
- Credit: Archant
The Brontes of Dunwich Heath (and Cliff) by Ivan Cutting and Eileen Ryan, Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich until January 11. Then from January 14-15 at Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge
Ever wondered where the Bronte sisters got their ideas for their novels? Well, it would seem, from their Suffolk cousins living in the crumbling ancient town of Dunwich.
These revelations are brought to light in Eastern Angles annual flight of fancy – their Christmas show and this is writer-director Ivan Cutting’s third foray into the world of classic literature having successfully tackled Dickens and Jane Austen.
As ever Ivan has assembled a talented ensemble who relish the opportunity to play half-a-dozen characters each and hurl themselves into the lunacy with real zest,
As regular audiences will know, this isn’t a panto, this is a Christmas show and the Eastern Angles Christmas show has its own set of rituals and traditions which revolve around the witty sending up of genre stereotypes and the clever weaving of Suffolk places into classic stories.
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In this show we get tales of Parliamentary shenanigans, property speculation, Dunwich’s status as a rotten borough and echoes of Kate Bush’s own take on Wuthering Heights.
Laura Corbett and Sophie Reid were superb as both sets of Bronte sisters (hailing from Suffolk and Yorkshire) swapping hats and accents with lovely comic timing while Harry Waller had a ball playing the naive Rev Bronte and the duplicitous Mr Rochester.
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Clare Hawes seemed to have multiple identities playing a host of parts from Post Mistress to housekeeper to a member of a rather shifty coastguard, while complaining of only getting small parts. Cameron Johnson was a huge presence on stage playing the evil property speculator Sir Fred and the buxom Caribbean-born Mrs Rochester.
There were plenty of inspired moments and set pieces – I thought the hang-gliding sequences with puppets attached to the actors was hilarious – but sadly this show was less than the sum of its parts.
For whatever reason, the creative spark was lacking this year. I think the plot was far too complicated and there were simply not enough jokes. The show had something of an identity crisis and couldn’t decide what it wanted to be – a comic send-up of a literary genre or a comic play with a story to tell. In the end it tried to do both and ended up being very long as a result. You could easily trim 10 minutes off the second half.
The songs were clever, witty but apart from The Company of Women not particularly memorable. This year the evening lacked the lightness of touch you normally get from one of our most experienced and reliable companies. When compared it to their usual sparkling Christmas extravaganzas, it felt a little bit flat.