When it was first suggested, even the author himself thought the idea of shipping Chekhov’s Three Sisters across from Russia to the Haworth of the Brontes was just a little off the wall.
Further investigation since has revealed that Chekhov read a biog of the Brontes before he wrote his play and so some of the parallels are perhaps not as surprising as they appeared when Northern Broadsides’ playwriting regular Blake Morrison first settled down to his laptop.
Whatever, the result of the transposition is a confusing new version of the Chekhov set in the familiar bleak parsonage, which sort-of tells the Bronte story but in such a way that you are never certain what’s what as far as the accuracy of the storyline is concerned.
So, we have a play about the Bronte Sisters; Charlotte, Emily and Anne, with a nod to Chekhov and his Three Sisters, in which their overlapping stories – unstable artistic brother, an obsession with romantic love and marriage, their work ethic, their tragedy – are there for you to digest and untangle. Or not, if, as I did, you simply lose interest.
Morrison, a far from inspired Broadsides cast and the company’s famously ebullient director Barrie Rutter, have created an evening that doesn’t draw one in to the action closely enough for anything to matter very much. And at over two-and-a-half hours long (including interval), it is a very demanding sit.