Underdog: The Other Other Brontë
Rating: ★★★★★
Venue: Dorfman Theatre, London
Cast: Rhiannon Clements, Adele James, Gemma Whelan, Nick Blakeley, Julian Moore-Cook, Adam Donaldson, Kwaku Mills and James Phoon

Charlotte Brontë has a confession about how one sister became an idol, and the other became known as the third sister. You know the one. No, not that one. The other, other one… Anne.

This is not a story about well-behaved women. This is a story about the power of words. It’s about sisters and sisterhood, love and jealousy, support and competition.

This new play written by Sarah Gordon started a recent run at the National Theatre which ends on 25th May. It's beautifully written, funny and touching. It refers to the Bronte's books only as a reminder of each sisters writing style but focuses much more on their relationship and how their different personalities interact.

The story focuses on the relationship between the three iconic sisters and their differing personalities. Charlotte's obsessive need to be accepted by her male peers and be famous. Emily locking horns with Charlotte, always competing to be the better writer or protecting Anne from Charlotte's overbearing personality, and quiet gentle Anne whose sense of the social injustices women suffered reflects in her writing.

The stage is a turntable whereby different furniture and items appear through doors either side of the stage, it's a simple and clever choice by set (and costume) designer, Grace Smart. The start of the second act uses it to great and comedic effect when Charlotte and Anne are at the end of a journey to London in a carriage driven very, very slowly.

I should also mention the comical costume design for the journalists/book critics. Grace Smart does a fantastic job at utilising the costumes for laughs. Long pinstriped cloaks, top hats with pipes attached and the cast wearing glasses and moustaches - take my word, it's brilliantly funny.

The cast coveted many roles, swapping costumes and gender multiple times. Special mentions must go to Nick Blakeley whose portrayals of Mrs Ingham and Elizabeth Gaskell are wonderfully funny. He also does a mean horse trotting impression (the above mentioned London journey) but you'll have to see the play for yourself to fully appreciate these moments.

Gemma Whelan is fabulous as Charlotte. Ambitious, driven, jealous, loving and funny, with an overriding drive to succeed and be accepted by the male-run establishment. Adele James held her own as Emily, arguing and competing with Charlotte. She was more than a match for both Whelan and Clements. 

Rhiannon Clements was delightful as Anne. She was charming and gentle, always ready to keep the peace. Her character had an underlying determination shown when she became a governess to help the family finances and in her writing, highlighting the plight of women in society in the mid 1800s.

This production captures very well the conflict between three sisters who are rival writers. Despite their efforts to work as a team and conquer a male dominated world, the sisters ultimately argue and the alliance breaks. I loved this play, I urge you to see it while you still can.

You can book tickets to see Underdog: The Other Other Bronte, here.

Review by Ed

**photo credit: Isha Shah**

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