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Thursday, 27 October 2016

Blake Morrison in Brussels

Writer Blake Morrison spoke to the thriving Brussels Brontë Group recently. Helen McEwan sent us this report, which also appears on our sister blog - the Brussels Brontë Blog.
Blake Morrison began his talk by drawing out parallels between his own childhood and the Brontës’. He told us about growing up near Skipton close to the Yorkshire-Lancashire border, in an old rectory at the top of the village, not far from Pendle Hill where the ‘Pendle Witches’ famous in local legend were hanged in 1612. His mother was Irish and his father, as a doctor (in fact both parents were doctors) was an important man in the village just as Patrick Brontë the parson was in Haworth. He told us about reading Jane Eyre in secret as a teenager – in secret because it was not considered boys’ reading in the laddish Yorkshire culture of the time; it was not on the curriculum at the boys’ grammar school he attended – and about the affinity he felt with the young Jane and the novel’s power as a book for young adults. Blake told us how he found out that his mother was hiding her copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in her bedside table around the same time that he was hiding his of Jane Eyre (a novel that when it first came out was also regarded as a ‘naughty’ book!).
Blake went on to tell us how he came to write his play about the Brontës, We are three sisters. First he recounted how an earlier Brontë-inspired stage production, a musical version of Wuthering Heights he wrote in 1986, was never performed; four other musical versions of the novel were doing the rounds at the time and in the end Heathcliff with lyrics by Tim Rice, starring Cliff Richard, was the only one to be staged. To give us a taste of his own version of Wuthering Heights, Blake read us the ballad Isabella’s Song, which starts:
As I stepped out one summer night
to feed my white ring-dove
a shadow fell across the gate
and swore undying love.
The shadow stretched out tall and slim,
its face was black as night.
It spoke to me of wedding-rings
and bridesmaids bathed in light ….
The full poem can be read in his book of verse A discoverie of Witches (2012) prompted by the Pennine landscape in which he grew up. In a very different mood, the collection also includes the Ballad of the Yorkshire Ripper, an exploration - in dialect - of the deeds and motives of Peter Sutcliffe, convicted of killing 13 women in 1981. Morrison has never shrunk from tackling such subjects, and has written a book on the James Bulger murder case.
Turning to the genesis of his play We Are Three Sisters, in which he took up the challenge of re-writing Chekhov’s play with Charlotte, Emily and Anne as the sisters, Blake told us that when a theatre critic friend first suggested the idea to him, he dismissed it as ‘bonkers’. He was however persuaded to go ahead with the project by the artistic director of the theatre company Northern Broadsides, which staged the play in 2011.
Sophia di Martino, Catherine Kinsella and Rebecca Hutchinson as the Brontës in Northern Broadsides' production of Blake Morrison's We Are Three Sisters. Photograph: Nobby Clark 

In Blake’s play, Moscow, to which Chekhov’s three sisters long to go, has become London, and, similarly, various characters in the Chekhov play are replaced by equivalent characters from the Brontës’ circle (their doctor, Patrick’s curate). Blake explained that although he used the Brontës own words in his text where possible, the use of Chekhov’s play as a basis meant he had to take some liberties with the Brontës’ life story, with sometimes amusing results. For example, in his play the woman with whom Branwell is believed to have had an affair, his employer’s wife Lydia Robinson, turns up at the Parsonage, which she never visited in real life. Members of our group read out extracts from two scenes in the play: Charlotte and Anne telling Emily about their trip to reveal their identity to the publisher George Smith in London, and Charlotte telling her father about the publication of Jane Eyre.
Contrary to the common perception of the Brontës’ lives as eventless, Blake found them full of interest and drama and wanted to show Haworth as less bleak than it is generally portrayed. His play has many touches of humour and he describes it as a ‘tragi-comedy’, much like the original Chekhov.
--> In the course of the talk, in addition to some of his poems, Blake read us extracts from his memoir And when did you last see your father? Made into a film in 2007 starring Jim Broadbent and Colin Firth, it contains many memories of his childhood. By the end of his time with us we had gained many insights into his personal background and the wide range of his literary output as well as becoming acquainted with his Brontë play.

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Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Winifred Gérin - a talk in Bath

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Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights - at The West Yorkshire Playhouse

Solomon Glave as Heathcliff
Andrea Arnold's brutally realistic take on Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights made waves in 2011 and is still making waves today, from the responses of the seventy or so in the audience of the Courtyard Theatre of the West Yorkshire Playhouse last night - which consisted mainly of one enthusiastic school party. It was an excellent choice to stimulate debate and raise questions, especially if A Levels are in mind.

An impressively knowledgeable panel was assembled on the stage under the title Brontës on Stage and Screen, to discuss artists' approaches to Brontë adaptations. Linda Marshall-Griffiths spoke about her reading of Villette and the way it influenced her interpretation of it, David Nixon, Artistic Director of Northern Ballet, said that he turned back to the original novel frequently during the process of creating a dance version, Nancy Meckler from Shared Experience recalled her wildly successful collaborations with Polly Teale and Michael Lawrence, Reader in Film Studies at the University of Sussex, spoke eloquently about Andrea Arnold's methods and motivations, and the way the film attacked existing conventions on how classical literature was represented on screen.

Read the review on this blog from five years ago

Watch the official trailer here:

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