Thistledown Theatre

we believe that theatre is for everyone





Reviewed 23rd March 2017 by Renee Robson

...It begins at the Bronte home after the deaths of their mother and older sisters which left Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne to cope without solace of “motherly love” but with the freedom to read whatever they liked. Although the family is a close and talented one, where reading and writing are encouraged by their father, it also conforms to the prevailing Victorian values of repression and sexism.

We follow their ongoing frustrations as they do stints as governesses and teachers in order to earn money whilst Branwell squanders his opportunities and returns home drunk, disappointed and in disgrace.

The eventual success of the sisters’ writings (albeit under pseudonyms) was overshadowed by the successive deaths of Branwell, Emily (very poignantly enacted when Cathy, the heroine from Wuthering Heights, leads her away) and finally Anne...

The acting of the whole company was faultless, and particular praise goes to those comprising the Brontës themselves; they vividly portrayed a close-knit but dysfunctional family with real passion and sensitivity. Indomitable Charlotte (Layla Al-Katib), reclusive Emily (Emily Saddler) and sensitive Anne (Holly Gorne) really created a sense of sisterhood, with all its frustrations but also deep love.

Craig Finlay was excellent as the wayward brother, played with just the right amount of cockiness and contrariness. And Colin Burnie as the emphatic father conveyed a sense of authority with compassion.

It was superbly directed by Sarah Pyper and stage managed by Rachel Smith in the suitably intimate surroundings of an old church library. This is a moving play, based on a real family, who would, no doubt, be amazed to see just what a huge phenomenon the Brontës have become.

Thank goodness the sisters shrugged off the churlish response of Poet Laureate Robert Southey to Charlotte’s submitted poems that “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life and it ought not to be.” 

I commend this production of Brontë without hesitation: you will not be disappointed.



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Reviewed 23rd March, 2017 by Kathryn McNicholl

...The play is powerful in showing the parallels between the lives of the authors and their characters. Emily, in particular, is drawn to the character of Cathy (played by Helen Coathup-Collier) – the words tumble out of her in unison with her character. Where did this stay-at-home girl who wandered the moors obtain her understanding of the dark passions that pour out of Wuthering Heights? How does she get so deep into the heart of the troubled Heathcliff (Peter Sheward)? Charlotte's writing is shown as more orthodox: she wants to be loved in the way that Jane Eyre is loved by Mr. Rochester (Peter Sheward again) and in fact only Charlotte ever marries (the curate Arthur Bell Nicholls, played by Henry Cockburn). Although she only lived 9 months after her wedding, she claimed to be very happy in the real world, rather than the world of words. Even Charlotte, though, writes of madness with the character of Mrs. Rochester (Helen Coathup-Collier again).

The acting in Thistledown Theatre's production of this interesting family story was impeccable: the sibling rivalries and affection, the dominance of the father in spite of his frailty, the characters from the books, all weave an unforgettable tale which enthrals and delights.