We are Three Sisters, a new play by Blake Morrison, is an intelligently bold exploration into the lives of fêted literary siblings the Brontë sisters. With clever use of Anton Chekhov’s 1901 play Three Sisters, which itself was rumoured to have been inspired by Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of close friend Charlotte Brontë, this play examines the lives and minds of the sisters who gave us novels such as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
The play allows for an intimate insight into the circumstances and experiences that drove the sisters to find solace, refuge and, quite simply, life within their own imaginations. We have stubborn and savvy Charlotte, the eldest of the three (played deftly by Catherine Kinsella), fiery but solitary Emily (played cleverly by Sophia di Martino) and naive idealist Anne, the youngest (played charmingly by Rebecca Hutchinson). The actresses convincingly and sensitively portray the Brontë sisters as the progressive, independent women they were; from their refusal to accept that a woman should not have the need or desire to work, to their fervent belief that marriage should not be for the sole purpose of convenience or stability.
The three women possessed impressive chemistry together onstage, creating an authentic sincerity in their depictions of sisterly love and affection as well as in their bitter confrontations. Though we know that the lives of these women were steeped in sadness due to the death of their mother and subsequently of two other siblings, Maria and Elizabeth, the three still radiate a feeling of warmth and humour that transforms what could easily have been a sombre and mournful tale into one of hope and optimism. Strong support is also seen in the form of the sisters’ alcoholic brother, Branwell, played at times, in quite a frighteningly turbulent manner by Gareth Cassidy; and Mrs. Robinson, portrayed by Becky Hindley, a woman so infuriatingly vile I couldn’t help but be impressed.
The snug warmth of the candlelit parlour that harbours the characters, and the unforgiving isolation of the Yorkshire moors just outside, provide the perfect setting in which to place our heroines. Their lives mirror their surroundings as they write ardently and vividly of love, morality and betrayal from behind the confined walls of the parsonage, battling against the overwhelming isolation and darkness ever-present just outside their front door, due not only to the weather but also the oppressive society in which they live.
The play is powerful in that we begin to understand in part why the sisters wrote the novels they did. We can see Jane Eyre in Charlotte, Catherine Earnshaw in Emily, and Helen Huntingdon in Anne. All three are powerful women ahead of their time, complete with strong wills and a common refusal to accept the limitations set by their gender, social standing and patriarchal era. It was intelligently directed, well written and well cast. A definite must-see.
We Are Three Sisters is playing at the Rose Theatre Kingston until 19 November. For more information and tickets, see the Rose Theatre Kingston’s website.