(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/16/22; via Pam Green; Photo: Captivating … The Moors. Photograph: Steve Gregson Photography.)
The Hope theatre, London
The characters might be the Brontës themselves or they might be from novels such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, mashed-up with wandering strays from a zombie movie
Agoverness arrives in a remote corner of the Yorkshire moors to find a household of oddballs. She has been wooed there by Branwell – the dissolute brother of the Brontë sisters – but there are only his sisters here and a house that creaks with creepy mysteries.
Inspired by the letters of Charlotte Brontë and boldly directed by Phil Bartlett, this black comedy by American writer, Jen Silverman, is a homage to the Brontës and a gothic pastiche in one.
The characters might be the Brontës themselves, stranded in Haworth and playing a sinister game of make-believe. Or they could be characters from several Brontë novels (most obviously from Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights), mashed-up with wandering strays from a zombie movie.
It takes a while to realise we are enveloped inside Sophia Pardon’s atmospheric set, sitting in the round with gravel beneath our feet. The charred walls of the house are behind us and the characters sit among us, staring dead ahead. Julian Starr’s sound design brings sometimes eerie, sometimes schlocky melodrama with screeching violins and organ music. The moor outside is evocatively conjured as a savage place of quicksand and endless wilderness.
Best of all, the actors captivate with lines that waver between humour and horror. Their performances are all the more astonishing given that they are recent drama school graduates.
Emilie (Meredith Lewis) is the callow governess with a beautiful singing voice; Agatha (Imogen Mackenzie) is the head of the household in lace and black lipstick with the dark allure of a Heathcliff figure. There is a fame obsessed sister, Hudley (Kenia Fenton), a hammily dead-eyed maid (Tamara Fairbairn) and a talking mastiff (Peter Hadfield), complete with leather collar and black nail varnish, along with a moorhen (Matilda Childs). They keep us hanging on their every word, even when the plot is pushed to the furthest edges of weirdness.