After award-winning success with After Mrs Rochester, based on the life of Jean Rhys, Shared Experience joint artistic director Polly Teale will tackle not one but three female novelists in her new play.

Brontë, which Teale is again both writing and directing, explores the real and imagined worlds of 19th-century writers and sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. The premiere production opens at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford on 25 August 2005 before continuing, until 3 December, to seven further venues, including four weeks (1 to 26 November) at London’s Lyric Hammersmith.

Teale’s new play is set on the Yorkshire moors, where the Brontë sisters, raised by their strict clergyman father, still lived in isolation. In 1845, their brother Branwell returned home in disgrace, plagued by addiction, having been dismissed after an affair with the mistress of the house. As Branwell descended into alcoholism and insanity, bringing chaos to the household, his sisters wrote.

While the sisters’ legacies live on in their classic Victorian novels – including Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - the nature of their tragic deaths is also notable. All three, as well as their brother, died within seven years of each other. At Branwell’s funeral in 1848, Emily caught a cold that developed into tuberculosis and led to her death later that same year. Anne died a year later, followed by Charlotte in 1855, who passed away during pregnancy.

More than a century after Charlotte Brontë’s death, Jean Rhys found her literary success with 1966’s Wide Sargasso Sea, which gave full scope to Mrs Rochester, as the "madwoman in the attic" in Jane Eyre. Prior to After Mrs Rochester - which transferred to the West End in 2003, winning the Evening Standard Award for Best Director - Polly Teale adapted and directed Jane Eyre for Shared Experience.

Shared Experience is renowned for its innovative theatre work, in particular its style of embracing new writing (often using devised scripts) and new literary adaptations then combining these with physical theatre. The company’s many acclaimed literary adaptations have also included A Passage to India as well as The Magic Toyshop, Anna Karenina and Mill on the Floss.

In Brontë, Fenella Woolgar (A Passage to India on stage, Bright Young Things, Stage Beauty on screen), Diane Beck (Top Girls, The Good Hope) and Catherine Cusack (Mill on the Floss, TV’s Ballykissangel) will play Charlotte, Emily and Anne respectively. The cast also includes David Fielder, Matthew Thomas and Natalia Tena.

The production is designed by Angela Davies and will feature images of Jane Eyre by artist Paula Rego. Lighting is by Chris Davey, music by Peter Salem and movement by Leah Hausman. Following Guildford, it will visit Leeds, Warwick, York, Oxford, Liverpool, London’s Lyric Hammermith and Salford.

- by Terri Paddock