“I often cry when I am happy, and smile when I am sad”
Anne Brontë might not be the most heralded of her sisters but that is to underestimate the different way in which she expressed herself. The striking feminism of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall remains as powerful as ever and in Deborah McAndrew’s adaptation, directed by Elizabeth Newman for the Octagon Theatre in Bolton of which she is the artistic director, it couldn’t find a better place to reassert those feminist credentials.
Even in these allegedly more enlightened times, the idea that a woman might stay in an abusive relationship is one that many people struggle with. And so as the story of Helen Graham unfolds, as the events of her past inform what happens in her present, McAndrew’s contemporary dialogue keeps a real modern urgency to the action. Alcoholism and abuse in marriage, gender equality and duty, the struggle for independence – this is timeless stuff.
In Phoebe Pryce’s hands, Helen’s story is as interesting whether its the first half story of her strange arrival at Wildfell Hall and her crash-landing into the life of Michael Peavoy’s genuinely nice man Gilbert Markham, as it is the exploration of the past that brought her there. Clever doubling from the company of eight fleshes out the world in Amanda Stoodley’s intimately detailed design and what results is a powerfully effective adaptation of a novel you might not have expected to work this well onstage.