The title sounds literary, but don’t be fooled: you won’t need to know much about the Brontë sisters to enjoy this wacky homage to their work. A basic awareness of Gothic fiction will see you through – the innocent governesses, the creeping madness, the mysteriously locked rooms. As performer duo Sarah Corbett and Angus Barr re-enact a self-described “amalgam” of Brontë tales, their increasingly ludicrous artistic endeavours deliver consistent laughs, yet conjure up some genuinely striking imagery too.
The tone is set by a coldly lit, chillingly sound-tracked opening tableau – a bubble of atmosphere that’s promptly punctured, and revealed as the set-up for a killer joke. It’s a trick they pull repeatedly, but this isn’t so much a parody of the Brontës’ oeuvre as a celebration of a trope: a recognition of the delicious enjoyment we draw from overblown productions of fraught romantic tales. It’s done with skill and elegance though, and more than once the audience laughed at a piece of physical theatre that I secretly found rather beautiful and inspired.
If you look hard enough, there are some serious points to be spotted here, particularly around the way Brontë heroines appear attracted to those who mistreat them. But the play’s main thrust is clearly towards comedy, and much of the entertainment is drawn from physical tomfoolery – most notably involving a pair of magnificently deranged wigs. The humour’s both visual and verbal, the punchlines are perfectly timed, and on the day I attended the performance was frequently interrupted by spontaneous rounds of applause.
The mood in the room did dip at times; this style of intelligent, offbeat humour is quite demanding of its audience, and maybe the show would weigh in better at 50 minutes rather than a full hour. For me, they sometimes milk their jokes just a touch too much, continuing a running gag for one repetition too long. But their frequent drops out of character were always welcome, with Barr playing the over-anxious artist keen to tutor the audience on how to appreciate his work, while Corbett – with unnerving intensity – silently reveals her thoughts through wildly staring eyes.
Of course, in this tale of wily windy moors, there’s one particular pop culture reference you might be holding out for. In which case, I can reassure you: yes, they do perform it, and no, it doesn’t disappoint. In fact, there’s almost nothing disappointing about this supremely entertaining show – the kind of knowingly eccentric production that, for me, defines the Fringe. Catch it if you can before it closes this Sunday.