Friday, February 14, 2020

Before we look at Valentine's Day references to the Brontës, let's take a look at some reviews of Wuthering Heights at the Royal Exchange, Manchester. The Times gives it 4 out of 5 stars:
Bryony Shanahan’s wonderful production, her first here as co-artistic director, takes some liberties as it creates a mood both Victorian and modern. You realise that as soon as the musicians Sophie Galpin and Becky Wilkie start singing versions of Brontë poems, taking to their guitars, keyboards and electronic drums for a soundtrack by Alexandra Faye Braithwaite that veers between drowsy folk and widescreen indie rock. Yet most of all it makes the emotional deprivation real. Rakhee Sharma’s Cathy rocks back and forth on a swing in her Yorkshire garden before locking horns with Alex Austin’s lanky, feral, cockney (yes!) young Heathcliff, and the wounding rough-and-tumble of childhood play really registers.
The adapter, Andrew Sheridan, sticks in some modern language, just enough to retain an edge, while also embracing Brontë’s purple patches. A neat nod to Kate Bush aside, though, he rarely gets cute. Sharma is impassioned yet unsentimental as an obsessed but also abrasive Cathy, imperious to her posh husband-to-be, Edgar, who is given sympathetic amounts of self-awareness by Dean Fagin. Pa Earnshaw (David Crellin) tells his son Hindley (Gurjeet Singh) he’s no good, and there’s no time to talk through callousness and its causes. No time for niceness here.
Most importantly, as they court and clash on Cécile Trémolières’s evocative green set, with its light strips glowing atmospherically above the stage, its tree growing into the balcony, these characters really connect. Austin is glorious, his urchin outsider first nearly mute as he bathes naked in a tin, then abrasive like some Eighties pop star as an outspoken grown-up in his tunic and breeches, his quiff gelled-back. As Shanahan blurs the line between the naturalistic and the impressionistic, there is something horribly vivid about both the strength of the passion between Cathy and Heathcliff and the barriers that spring from character and circumstance.
Sheridan cuts the story down to keep the lovers centrestage almost throughout. He threads the harshness with humour too, thankfully. It’s earthy, it’s unfriendly, and in its awful way, it’s desperately romantic too. (Dominic Maxwell)
The Stage, which also gives it a 4 out of 5, sums it up as 'Raw, visceral, ragged and occasionally brilliant interpretation of Brontë’s story of doomed love'.
Painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti called Emily Brontë’s gothic masterpiece Wuthering Heights “a fiend of a book”. This full-throttled, unfettered and occasionally chaotic Royal Exchange production certainly embraces the cruelty and brutality at the heart of Brontë’s story. But it also channels the tumultuous emotions and elemental forces that have made it such an endearing favourite among audiences.
At times Bryony Shanahan’s heady production strains to demonstrate how different it is from the sundry previous stage and screen adaptations. Andrew Sheridan’s script flits feverishly between Brontë’s beautifully evocative prose and a more anachronistic and profane re-imagining of her words, playfully chucking in Star Wars references and even lines from Kate Bush’s iconic, titular song along the way. But it sticks closely to the central tenets of the novel, sensibly filleting out characters, condensing events and truncating its lengthy time frame.
Around this, the creative team realise Brontë’s moorland world and the fractured mental states of its inhabitants with fittingly wild abandon. Not all of it works. An overly cluttered, artificial-looking set strewn with thicket-spouting mounds and plasticky boulders – providing a trip hazard for all but the most fleet-footed of cast members – is stripped back to provide a rather too literal nod to the withering of the characters’ hopes and dreams in the show’s second half. Meanwhile, Zoe Spurr’s lighting often doesn’t add much to the overall effect.
But the best moments come when the design team unites to produce a totally immersive sensory accompaniment to the unfolding action. Two onstage musicians lend considerable heft to Alexandra Faye Braithwaite’s guitar and percussion-led compositions, which range from delicate, plaintive, folk-infused ballads (featuring haunting vocals with lines drawn from Brontë’s poetry) to floor-shakingly stirring, primal wails of sound. They are at their best when sound-tracking the young Cathy and Heathcliff’s evocatively realised, carefree days on the moors and then ramped up to 11 when Heathcliff struts back into everyone’s lives after his years of exile.
Alex Austin’s adult Heathcliff has the swagger to match the production’s musical highs. It’s a bold choice to play one of literature’s greatest romantic anti-heroes as a preening, Johnny Rotten-esque wide boy, rather the usual tousled, Byronic brooder. His performance won’t be to everyone’s liking but it’s never less than arresting, zeroing in on Heathcliff’s animalistic core in a final hair-raisingly lupine howl of despair. The other men are rather more broadly brushed, but David Crellin brings real tenderness to his comparatively fleeting role as the Earnshaw family’s doting patriarch.
But the production’s greatest asset is its female characters. Rakhee Sharma provides an assured anchor to proceedings as Cathy and nails the character’s tragic descent from gutsy, free-spirited child to frustrated, mentally unravelled wife. Rhiannon Clements brings welcome light relief and deft comic touches as the hapless Isabella. (Chris Bartlett)
The Telegraph gives it 3 out of 5 stars.
In what is Bryony Shanahan's first production as the new co-artistic director of the Royal Exchange, writer Andrew Sheridan opts for a mix of the poetic and the prosaic. Perhaps wisely concentrating only on the first half of the novel, it's a deft, economical adaptation that aims to strip back some of the clotted romance that has accumulated around Brontë's genre-defying tragedy.
It's still a world of ungovernable feelings, populated by unstable men who carve their jealousy into their arms and remove cubs from dead vixens and stamp on them, but there is bright comedy here too. When the respectable Edgar Linton comes calling on Cathy, now a young woman, her controlling brother Hindley (a deadly silky Gurjeet Singh) falls over himself in his oleaginous efforts to impress him, while Rhiannon Clements is an amusingly puppyish Isabella, eagerly trying to keep up with Cathy and Heathcliff as they run across the heather.
Still, every new take on Wuthering Heights stands or falls by its Heathcliff. Alex Austin's version is, alas, no diabolical Byronic hero but a coarse brute with estuary vowels and a fondness for the F word and whose deranged petulance sometimes puts you more in mind of a stroppy teenager than someone you'd happily follow through the gates of hell. Granted, Heathcliff is a sadistic nightmare of a man but you've got to swoon a little bit, surely. Rakhee Sharma's Cathy is wonderful, though, difficult, imperious and a real child of outdoors whose self-sabotaging betrayal of Heathcliff is heartbreaking. There's a lovely moment late on when both stand in silence, taunted by a memory of their childhood selves chasing each other ecstatically across the moors.
Ah, those moors. Under some ugly strip lighting, they are represented here by what looks suspiciously like astro turf. There's a lot of running round the Exchange's circular stage to suggest, you know, a longing for freedom, and some weird animalistic spitting and growling from Cathy and Heathcliff to crudely convey their savagery.
Sheridan blends in a fair amount of Brontë's poems while an onstage band produce a blend of keening folk laments and some rather more thrilling electric guitar riffs. The delicate final scene hints beautifully at the destructive legacy of Cathy and Heathcliff that is yet to unfold. But Brontë's novel to some extent exists in the mind of the reader as a sort of hallucination – a fever dream of a world shaped by unfathomable cruelties and desires. Shanahan's production is at its clumsiest when trying to capture some of that imaginative spirit, with the result that the novel's intoxicating, all-consuming strangeness remains stubbornly out of reach. (Claire Allfree)
Fairy Powdered Productions gives it 4 stars.
Under Bryony Shanahan’s direction, a wild, uninhibited relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff formed, flourished and became an obsession, as eternal as Penistone Crags. Alex Austin’s original portrayal of Heathcliff caught the eye in a performance riddled with all of the worst characteristics of people: envy, selfishness, and unadulterated loathing.
The characters were distinctly unlikeable and, even though Hindley’s (Gurjeet Singh) jealousy and hateful bullying of Heathcliff was believable and brutal, it was difficult to feel much sympathy for him, or indeed any other character as the performance lurched from one disaster to the next. The dark and damaged script described a deep and sometimes disturbing love, bordering on obsession. The weak and neglected Edgar Linton (Dean Fagan), downtrodden by an increasingly aggressive and damaged Cathy (Rakhee Sharma), was particularly meek and manipulated as he, his sister (Rhiannon Clements) and Hindley vied for affection to no avail.
Alexandra Faye Braithwaite’s shoegaze-style musical accompaniment, performed by the excellent Becky Wilkie and Sophie Galpin, added depth to some of the more emotional moments. When things all felt rather heavy and despairing, the music brought hope and optimism.
Subtle changes to Cecile Tremoliere’s attractive staging were noticeable after the interval as the set grew with the characters. Zoe Spurr’s moveable LED strip lighting was excellent and provided a delicate glow to the stage. (Joseph Everton)
4 stars also from Quays Life.
The production is designed for us to get swept up in the headiness of it all, with integration of a live music soundtrack, as musicians, Becky Wilkie and Sophie Galpin whipping up emotion playing an original and often haunting score from Alexander Faye Braithwaite.
The costumes and drama keep it a period piece, but Sheridan updates the language with a spattering of expletives that are probably necessary for a 21st century audience to grasp the guttural brutality, but still feel a little out of place.
Act II gets darker following the couple’s separation, opening onto an even bleaker landscape where even the odd clumps of heather have disappeared. Alex Austin’s Heathcliff is more preening than brooding and Rakhee Sharma’s Cathy more waspish than feisty. Their love plays out as madness and obsession with a surprising lack of passion and desire. And although both actors give strong, energised performances, the direction to push their characters to self-absorbed extremes, weakens the emotional connection from the audience to care about what happens to them.
That said, overall it is an absorbing piece which makes dynamic use of the Exchange’s intimate space. It is a bold move to present such a set of dislikeable figures without compromise, and it won’t be to everyone’s taste. But as Shanahan’s first production for the Exchange in her role as artistic co-director, the ambition of it is an exciting sign of what’s to come. (Carmel Thomason)
Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg is Evening Standard's Book of the Week and reviewed by Claire Harman.
Greenberg has entered into this world as enthusiastically as any young Brontë, shaping and honing the stories with glee, and lighting up Glass Town in blazing colours and strong charcoal lines. The four children, gods in nightgowns, move pieces around a vast map, talk over each other and displace one plot with a fresh one. There are rivalries and fallings-out (resulting in the break-away of Emily and Anne to create their own, even more private kingdom) but the presiding spirit is that of play, with the toy soldiers talking in funny accents and thumbing their noses at each other. “My love is as bottomless as a well,” Greenberg has Mary Percy say of her doomed feelings for Zamorna, “As endless as a ball of string. As filling as rice pudding. Oh, that’s good, I should write that down.” 
On adjacent pages, and in stark contrast, the life of the parsonage goes on. The children progress through school, where the girls are being prepared for drab futures as teachers or governesses.  They each hope that somehow they might be saved by the power of their imaginations, but that seems increasingly unlikely. Greenberg’s subdued palette is particularly effective in the scenes showing Charlotte’s breakdown at Roe Head school, all gloom and stark windows, blending into colour when Zamorna appears in her bedroom at night (he’s been hiding in a chest) and whisks her off to Glass Town. The wafer-thin line between Charlotte’s real and imagined life at this date, and her drug-like dependence on escape, finds perfect expression in these dreamy pictures. It’s a wonderful book. Greenberg is impressively well-informed about the Brontës, but handles her facts lightly, allowing full power to the beautiful and sensitive images. She knows exactly when to scale up a frame, or leave it wordless, and keeps coming back to Charlotte’s sad bespectacled face. “You made all this, Miss Brontë. This is your world,” Wellesley reminds her. It’s strange how moving these images are. 
Mirror recommends it too.
Glass Town, by Isabel Greenberg
Jonathan Cape, £18.99
In this beautifully drawn graphic novel, Charlotte Brontë is mourning the death of her beloved siblings when a character she created as a child, Charles Wellesley, appears. He leads her back into the richly imaginative world that the young Brontës created, offering much-needed escape.
From the vivid artwork to a story as poignant and touching as it is witty, this is an artful, inventive and deeply moving mash-up of fact and fiction. (Charlotte Heathcote)
And now for the Valentine's Day barrage. According to The Chester Standard,
Chester has long claimed to be Britain’s ‘City of Love’ thanks to its romantic history, great architecture and beautiful walks. This romantic exhibition at the Grosvenor Museum supports CH1ChesterBID’s ‘City of Love’ campaign featuring a Valentine’s trail around the city centre: and a social media campaign that has citizens around the city reading ‘love poetry’. This has included the Leader of the Council, Councillor Louise Gittins reading ‘Love and Friendship’ by Emily Brontë and Kate Harland from the Grosvenor Museum reading ‘Not In A Silver Casket Cool With Pearls’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Chester Town Hall is illuminated in red light this week.
According to Curve, Portrait de la jeune fille en feu is 'your best bet for Valentine's Day'.
Sciamma (Water Lilies, Tomboy) has created an aesthetically-pleasing miracle, an impossible narrative that sounds like a Victorian novel written by the Brontë sisters — if they were French and gay; a novel you should have read in school but which somehow slipped under your radar; a novel that in fact does not exist. Because it doesn't. Sciamma has created a work that should have been part of a literary canon had it cared at all what women felt, did, or thought. With Portrait Of A Lady On Fire Sciamma inserts a great, never-told lesbian love story into the seam of history itself. (Merryn Jones)
DNA (India) encourages readers to 'Feel the love this season with these heart-wrenching, gut-rending romantic novels', including
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë: Published under the pen name Currer Bell on October 16, 1847, by Smith, Elder & Co. of London, this novel by Charlotte Bronte, should have a permanent place in your library. It explores themes such as religion, sexuality, and classism while talking about the maturing love and emotions of Jane for her brooding boss Mr. Rochester.
Metropolitan Magazine (Italy) includes both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights on a list of 'literary loves'.
Heathcliff e Catherine, Cime Tempestose, Emily Brontë
Il classico dei classici, insieme ad Orgoglio e Pregiudizio di Jane Austen, ma che non si può non citare a San Valentino, parlando di passione struggente, amori rovinosi e fuochi impellenti. Tormento e brughiera inglese, fanno da sfondo a questa storia d’amore ambientata nello Yorkshire. Tutto ha inizio con l’arrivo di un bambino a Wuthering Heights. Catherine è la figlia del proprietario, il Signor Earnshaw, che prende il piccolo sotto la sua protezione. I due crescono insieme, e ben presto, si scoprono innamorati, finendo per intrecciare una relazione segreta per non turbare l’equilibrio familiare. Colpi di scena, drammi, separazioni e desiderio di vendetta condiscono questo romanzo dalle sfumature un po’ gotiche, a tratti.
Jane Eyre e Mr. Rochester, Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
Altro libro, altra sorella Brontë da ricordare nella ricorrenza di San Valentino. Jane è una ragazza con un passato tormentato ed un’educazione rigorosa. Arriva a casa del Signor Rochester per lavorare come istitutrice. Il padrone di casa si dimostra burbero, inquietante, a tratti. Tra i due nasce qualcosa, con il tempo, pur andando incontro a numerose vicessitudini che metteranno alla prova l’amore dei due protagonisti. Ma la pazienza, la dolcezza e la risolutezza di Jane, avranno la meglio, così come i lettori avranno il loro lieto fine. (Stella Grillo) (Translation)
According to Meath Chronicle,
Love is forever idealised by the enduring classics, Little Women Jane Eyre, Pride And Prejudice, and Wuthering Heights. (Paul Hopkins)
CNBC thinks that,
Love written in books - especially books like Wuthering Heights - sometimes does not translate well on screen. Where will you find corrosive passion like Catherine and Heathcliff? (Manisha Lakhe)
Brontë quotes for cards and messages on Metro, Mirror, Times of India, Clarín (Argentina)...

La voz de Galicia (Spain) recommends both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights as two of twenty stories to believe in love.

Oggi (Italy) interviews writer Carolina Capria.
Il più bel libro che secondo lei ha scritto una femmina…
«Posso solo dire il mio preferito, senza pretendere che la mia risposta contenga alcuna verità Jane Eyre di Charlotte Brontë». (Lavinia Capritti) (Translation)
According to Town & Country, 'J.G. Melon Serves The Best Burger in New York City'.
J.G. Melon is the only restaurant in New York City where I am greeted by a hug from the host—even though I have never tipped him. It is the only restaurant where I know I will always be able to get a table, instead of being dismissed by an impervious hostess who tells me that the restaurant is fully booked, or that I won’t be able to be seated for two and a half hours. Sure, there is usually a wait at J.G. Melon, but it is spent drinking and chatting with the bartender Frankie about the Brontë sisters. (Emily Selter)
Offside (France) recommends a perfume for
Quelqu'un qui aime la chasse antique, et peut-être un bon roman de Charlotte Brontë. (Mike) (Translation)
Observador (Portugal) celebrates Anne Brontë's bicentenary feature the Brontë Parsonage exhibition. El espectador (Colombia) has an article on pseudonyms and mentions the Brontës. Patheos's Eidos posts about Jane Eyre.


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