Exeter Express and Echo online (3 November 2014)
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall proved a big leap from last Friday’s blood-curdling Wuthering Heights – yet this energetic rendition of Anne Brontë’s infamous novel still sent shockwaves through the Barnfield Theatre.
The final instalment of Butterfly Psych Theatre and Livewire Theatre’s Brontë Season, this story follows the attempts of Gilbert Markham (Tom Turner) to win over Wildfell Hall’s mysterious new tenant Helen Graham (Madelaine Ryan).
Yet Helen’s disturbing past soon comes to the fore, in what has been dubbed one of the first sustained feminist novels – exploring issues of infatuation, domestic violence and forgiveness.
Acted entirely by Turner and Ryan, the switching of roles was once again brilliant. The transitions were here given a more animated, comic twist than in the previous nights, which worked refreshingly well.
Turner’s asides were fantastic – With a cheeky half-smile playing on his face he threw out sharp little snippets that couldn’t help but bring about chuckles. We were hooked on his every word.
Ryan’s versatility shone as she switched effortlessly between the plain-spoken Helen and flirtatious Eliza –whose portrayal was hysterical. The giggles continued as Turner donned the role of Helen’s aunt. Shane Morgan’s clever direction coupled with Turner and Ryan’s impeccable timing gave us the chance to mock these characters without the humour becoming ridiculous.
As we began to delve into Helen’s traumatic past, comedy turned to compassion – finding myself completely taken in by Huntingdon’s charms, I went from being infatuated with him to hating him, just as our heroine did. And my desperation for Gilbert to remain with Helen at the story’s close proved one thing beyond doubt – I’d completely fallen in love with both characters.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was frank, modest, and freshly funny. Turner and Ryan could have been a modern day hero and heroine, but at the same time we undeniable believed in them as Gilbert and Helen, making this nineteenth century novel brilliantly accessible.
There was nothing of the supernatural here – just one man, one woman and a story that made me laugh, wonder, feel the deepest sympathy and long for a happy ending.