We Are Brontë

Wed 3rd – Fri 5th August 2016

reviews

Una O'Sullivan

at 08:31 on 6th Aug 2016

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‘We Are Brontë’ is a fresh and funny satire on the lives and stories of the Brontë sisters, brought to life by the undeniable talents of Angus Barr and Sarah Corbett.

The performance opens with a histrionic score and stark, dramatic lights, charging the intimate space with melodrama. Barr and Corbett appear onstage dressed in frowzy Gothic costume and wigs, and their theatrical facial expressions certainly befit the suspense in the room. Cue an abrupt cut to music, audience lights going up, and Barr apologising for not making a clearer introduction to the show, much to the shock and horror of his co-star.

This ludicrously over-dramatic portrayal of the Brontë stories, coupled with an embarrassed explanation of the symbolism just conveyed, is at the core of this show’s humour. Indeed, the dynamic between the two performers is perfectly executed: Barr offers timid explanations of the very ‘out-there’ performances, whereas Corbett seems utterly engrossed in the embodiment of the Brontës, and is astonished at Barr’s breaches of the fourth wall.

Sound is used to tremendous effect by the actors, with the playful and entertaining physical theatre choreographed to a farcical choice of sound effects. A notable instance is Barr’s solo piano extravaganza: he plays a fantastically inventive air piano in perfect time with the music.

Once or twice, the balance is tipped unfavourably between labouring a point until it’s funny, and continuing a joke until it’s laboured- particularly, I found, when it comes to the heavy-handed usage of props. The most consistently funny approach to the stories is often the simple usage of facial and bodily expression.

The jokes and theatrics are buoyantly well-received, with a consistent level of chuckles rippling around the theatre throughout. The acting is so effective that Barr’s insistence that “this is a good bit,” which serves to break up two particularly dramatic scenes, is unnecessary.

By the end of the show there is a vibrant, feel-good atmosphere throughout the small lecture theatre. Barr’s candid chats with the audience do not only achieve comedic effect: they also create a sense that we are all a weird, happy family on the moors.

For those who have forgotten the books of their school-days, or, indeed, for those who have never read the Brontë's novels, this show will have you laughing with its irrepressible silliness and good humour. While some of the episodic scenes can be difficult to place within the play's wider narrative, it is the simultaneous absorption in, and charming parody of, the turbulent passions of the moors, which make this show so enjoyable.

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Toby Clyde

at 15:02 on 6th Aug 2016

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With just two performers and a downright bizarre box of effects, 'We Are Brontë' guides the audience through a ludicrous landscape of Victorian gothic scenes and abrupt fourth wall breaks. ‘We’re an amalgamation’ the audience is told by the haunted male half of the duo as he stops, mid-performance, to apologetically explain what is going on. And so the play proceeds, a sharply witty and hugely enjoyable piece of physical theatre which, with immense skill, teeters just on the edge of insanity.

There is no real plot to speak of- in fact, that is almost the point. Sarah Corbett and Angus Barr are masterful as an unnamed and austerely dressed Victorian couple that dance, shuffle and contort their way though a mash-up of Brontë inspired scenes. Pulled along by a sheet Corbett performs the robot with a scary intensity. During an improvised Q&A with the audience both gravely fail to answer a single question, with an anxious expressions so strained it is almost painful to watch. Needless to say it is hilarious and a perfectly irreverent way to explore all that is absurd about the gothic.

However, all of this carefully cultivated strangeness would do little if it were not for the effects that accompany them. The show has a beating undercurrent of music and a wonderful collection oddball props (from big black wigs to what I think was a nutcracker) that, like the play’s errant smoke machine, never quite work right. The effect is unsettling, funny and at times strangely touching. The play is at its best when it lets these sensations linger a little bit longer than is comfortable, hinting that, just maybe, they might have something deeply important to say before dissolving the tension in a rapid change of character.

Yet in the hands of a less experienced pair of actors this kind of farcical surrealism could easily fall flat, let alone remain engaging for an entire hour. Even Corbett and Barr struggle sometimes with scenes that seem perhaps overly long and too disjointed. Nevertheless it is a testament to the accomplishment of this production, already battle hardened from multiple performances across the UK, that the audience remained enraptured throughout. This amalgamation is perfect for those looking for the kind of high quality wit and thoughtful absurdity that only the most gnarled corners of the Fringe can deliver.

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