Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Asian Brontës

The Journal (Newcastle) has an article on Tamasha's Wuthering Heights as the production arrives in Newcastle tomorrow and runs until Saturday.

A BOLLYWOOD-style version of the Victorian classic Wuthering Heights transports Northern Stage to sunnier climes this week.
Gone are the bleak moors of Emily Brontë’s Yorkshire-set novel and, in their place, are the India deserts of Rajasthan.
The worst anyone can say is that this adaptation by British Asian theatre company Tamasha is different. The best is that it’s a refreshingly imaginative and daring venture that adds colour to the 1847 tale.
It’s all down to actor-turned-writer Deepak Verma, who came up with the idea in the first place.
And the version he’s written shows he dares to be different.
But then Brontë was daring in her day and her love story involving Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff – packed with cruel passions, vengeance and jealousy – was a bit of a shocker when it was published.
Deepak – who played EastEnders character Sanjay Kapoor for six years until 1998 – turns the famous main characters into the fiery Shakuntala (Youkti Patel in her professional stage debut) and Krishan (Pushpinder Chani) and sets them in Rajasthan, in the 1770s.
He saw a clear parallel, he says, between “the darkness of the moors and harshness of the desert. They’re unmerciful, unforgiving, relentless”.
To a large extent, he decided to free himself from the book and the 1939 film version starring Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier.
“As a writer you have to do that or else you stifle your creativity,” he explains.
“And I had to make a big decision about what part of the book to transfer.”
For him, Heathcliff, the anti-hero, was the key. Then he found parallels between Victorian England’s restrictive class hierarchy and Indian society’s taboos and the caste system.
“On a metaphysical level, it really fits into the Hindu belief in reincarnation, having a soul that leads through many lifetimes,” he says.
“That relates to Heathcliff’s beliefs.”
The religious servant Joseph, meanwhile, quotes the Koran instead of the Bible.
The musical’s designer, Sue Mayes,went to Rajasthan to research the set and costumes, and the show also draws from the history of Indian cinema, Rajasthani folklore and Indian classical music.
The result is a timeless work, developing into a big musical bonanza – with actors lip-synching to a pre-recorded score by classically-trained musicians in Bangalore and vocalists in London – and also featuring a sumptuous palace, even a camel racecourse, plus a surprise at the end.
Kristine Landon-Smith, co-founder of Tamasha and director of the show, said: “Bollywood is all about characters, unrequited love, death – big human emotions. I think in Brontë’s Wuthering Heights you get that and it makes a perfect marriage with a Bollywood treatment.
“Our show mixes sequins and saris with the power of a Victorian novel and it’s a family show.”
Tamasha enjoys interpreting literary classics through musicals and comedy – its past work includes the Olivier-nominated East Is East, later made into a film – so, for Deepak, the joint venture proved a meeting of minds.
The boss of his own film and TV production company Pukkanasha Films, he has more ideas of adding a twist to the traditional, such as a Jewish musical version of Hobson’s Choice, called Cohen’s Choice, and a reworking of Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 classic Rebecca.
Wuthering Heights opens at Northern Stage in Newcastle tomorrow and runs until Saturday. Visit www.northernstage.co.uk or call (0191) 230-5151. (Barbara Hodgson)
Still in the world of stage, China.org.cn announces that Wang Luoyong - a Chinese actor well-known in Broadway for his role in Miss Saigon - will become Mr Rochester in a Chinese production of Jane Eyre, written by 喻荣军 (Yu Rongjun).
"Jane Eyre", the novel had nothing to do with "Miss Saigon", the musical. That is not until Chinese actor Wang Luoyong returns to the theater stage next month.
Wang, who has been hailed as a "top Asian actor in Broadway" for leading the long-running musical "Miss Saigon" in 1990s, will play Jane Eyre's lover, Edward Rochester, in an upcoming Chinese theatrical adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's classic romantic novel.
Actress Yuan Quan will star as Jane Eyre.
The show, which will have a ten-day run at Beijing's National Center for the Performing Arts from June 19, is Wang's first theatrical effort in seven years.
Back to books, Blogger News Networks publishes a review of Jillian Dare by Melanie M. Jeschke, the first chapter of which can be read here.
Honestly, Melanie M. Jeschke did not do a great job of moderizing Jane Eyre, in my opinion. The old story was darkly romantic and heavy with mystery. This novel is not. While the characters are fairly well developed, and you do notice within the first 10 pages or so that this is the retelling of Jane Eyre, (the cover tells you that, too) it does not live up to expectations. The supporting characters are not developed well. They don’t have much depth and this detracts from the story, making the reader want to fill in a hole somewhere but you don’t know where the hole is.
I have a strong feeling that this is an editing problem, not the author’s problem because publishers these days don’t want to publish books with more than 97,000 to 100,000 words. Jane Eyre had 200,000 words or more and every single one of them was needed to progress the feel of story which is what Jane is all about.
Jane went to work in a dark and brooding household, whereas Jillian goes to work in a bright and airy mansion of a place. Jane feels closed in and almost oppressed by the mystery, and Jillian is merely puzzled. Jane is frightened and timid, but perserveres, Jillian is bold and health conscious, which is fine, but is a bit incongruous to the Jane Eyre tradition.
I know, Jeschke did not want to do a story exactly like the old one. I think she did a terrific job of creating a unique enough novel, which was definitely inspired by the old classic. I just think the atmosphere of the old would have lent itself very well to modernization, in fact it would have been even more gothic than gothic.
Bear in mind it is my opinion, but I give this one two stars. It is mildly interesting. Perhaps that is because the old classic was so tremendously good that the retelling of it falls rather flat. (Gina Burgess)
You will read BrontëBlog's review of Jillian Dare soon too.

The Guelph Mercury in the meantime warns us of the many dangers of falling in love in real life with a fictional character (!).
Whether it's James Bond, Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre, Nick Stokes from CSI or an actual actor, we all do it from time to time. There is nothing physically wrong with loving someone who is two-dimensional as long as the fine line between fantasy and reality can be seen. (Noorain Shethwala)
If you're in Lakewood, Ohio, then you may have a date with that Mr Rochester tonight and see if you can help falling for him. The Lakewood Public Library has a Knit and Lit evening centered around Jane Eyre, according to The Lakewood Observer.

Finally, the Halifax Courier has an article on Robin Hood and Calderdale. A couple of visitors to the area comment on its Brontë connections as well:
Barbara and David Lumb, of Hightown, Liversedge, also attended. Mrs Lumb said: "The estate is absolutely beautiful. This area featured heavily in Charlotte Bronte's novel Shirley, which I really enjoyed. (Suzanne Rutter)
There is also a more remote Brontë connection, as one of Patrick's brothers, James, on a visit to Haworth from Ireland, visited the area as well for its Robin Hood connections. Apparently he proved the legend that says that if you try the helmet that supposedly belonged to Robin Hood and is kept there you'll lose all your hair.

On the blogosphere, You're History! gives Villette 4 out of 5 stars, Ramblings-n-Writings reviews Jillian Dare and Renée's Book and Movie Reviews posts about Wuthering Heights 2009.

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