Thursday, December 12, 2013


Eastern Angles at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich

This year's literary Christmas tomfoolery explores the little-known Suffolk branch of Yorkshire's finest writing family, the Brontës of Haworth.
It's a clever blend of fact, fiction and fantasy, which assumes a certain familiarity with the literature. In the witty, erudite script, by Eileen Ryan and Eastern Angles Artistic Director Ivan Cutting, familiar characters rub shoulders with the authors, as the scene shifts from Dunwich to Barbados and back again. Cutting directs, with designs by Ian Teague [lovely sea-scapes] and music by Simon Egerton, who composed Parkway Dreams for the Peterborough branch earlier this year.
Is it set in Egypt ?” wondered one myopic punter, mistaking the polystyrene cliff for a Sphinx. With the ingenious economy we have come to expect from this company, something of a feature is made of the scene shifting, simple boxes, benches and arches continually reconfigured.
The music, too, is shared around, as the performers take turns at the keyboard and turn their hand to tin whistle, guitar and ukulele. This last for the legendary laughing Hovelers, who “write all their own material”.
You have to have your wits about you to pick up all the throwaway jokes and the recondite references. Peter Grimes, Dolly the Sheep, Southwold's historic Sailors' Reading Room, Fred the Shred, and that's before we start on the Brontë books or the legends of Dunwich lost to the sea.
The less well-read are not forgotten – as Wikipedia has it, In Popular Culture, there's plenty of Kate Bush, and a reminder towards the end that, somewhat incredibly even in this wild and wuthering fantasy, Cliff Richard once starred in the Tim Rice musical of Heathcliff. And I wonder what the drama students from The Academy made of the constant cross-border sniping at Colchester … ?
Slipping in and out of costume and character are Laura Corbett as Plain Jane and Sophie Reid as Mad Cathy [beautifully dressed for the part]. Harry Waller divides his time between the keyboard, Patrick [Brontë père] and Mr Rochester the coconut magnate. [Lord Smeg, the fridge magnate, one of the many one-liners I've filed away for future use, together with OMGA …]. Clare Hawes plays countless menials, as well as the late Mrs B, whose tombstone we trip over on the way to our seats. A lively ghost she makes, totes fluent in social-media-speak, obvs …
But head and shoulders above the others, Cameron Johnson's strapping Heathcliff and his unforgettable Mrs Rochester, the madwoman with the mattock in the attic, the Barbadian bride who finds fulfilment in face creams.
Adele is a doll, Edith a cuddly seabird, there's hang-gliding, a coconut-oil calypso, a hothouse from the flies, and some very witty lyrics, despite the dearth of rhymes for Brontë. Could Lorenzo da Ponte have done any better ?

production photo: Mike Kwasniak

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