“Faster than pen can set it down, came panic, rushing, crushing—a blind, selfish, cruel chaos.” So wrote Charlotte Brontë about the fire that engulfs a theatre in her novel, Villette. If it was this particular bit of Brontë upon which cabaret corps Scary Little Girls drew their theatrical inspiration, I can honestly state that they captured every element successfully.
For a show ostensibly inspired by some of the most important imaginative minds in the literary canon, this cabaret displayed a mind-rottingly low level of originality and engagement with its supposed source material. Every element of content was either plagiarised, irrelevant or belaboured to the point of nightmare.
The show was opened with a rendition of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. The show was then interspersed by another rendition of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, another rendition of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights and a final rendition of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. Whilst it may be supposed that such total lack of imagination may be played for laughs, such was not the case and the laboriousness of listening five times over was compounded by consistently off-key vocals. Furthermore, despite leaning upon this appropriate yet unimaginative choice with corpse-like heaviness, the show managed to screw up the lyrics within the first five words.
When variation was introduced into the musical repertoire, it was enragingly irrelevant and symptomatic of the show’s wider disregard for its alleged inspiration. The fact that the Brontës are from Yorkshire and that Pulp and the Human League are also from Yorkshire does not qualify as pertinent link. Similarly, the fact that one of our cabaret characters claims Cornish identity does not excuse the fact that there are genuinely more jokes in the show about Cornwall (reaching such dizzying heights of sophistication as to call a mouth a ‘pasty-hole’) than about the Brontës. Considering the fact that upon my bookshelf rests a book in which Juliet Barker manages to conjure up 1003 pages upon the lives of these literary sisters, it is asking a miniscule amount of any hour-long show to offer more accurate content and an insight with more penetration than the fact that the Brontë’s mother was – surprise, surprise – from Cornwall!
Our performers compound their problem of irrelevancy with some exceedingly transparent plagiarism. In their billing, Scary Little Girls compare themselves (immensely flatteringly) to comedy greats French & Saunders: Is it not at least astoundingly coincidental, then, that our host Branny – an obese, hat-wearing West Country woman with SEN – is remarkably similar to the Pairtree Farm residents – two hat-wearing, West Country women – from French & Saunders’ own show; and almost identical to French’s character, Rosie – an obese SEN West Country woman – from Saunders’ Jam & Jerusalem. Despite practically making a comic carbon copy of three established comedy characters, the Full Brontë still managed to communicate them joylessly; Branny was played without any sense of heart or warmth.
In those incredibly scarce moments where jokes did present themselves, they were universally killed off by terrible timing or excruciating execution. Moments such as those where Branny crawled three feet around the side of the piano to chuck some paper into the face of our musician; or compere Monika de Plume dashed in screaming ‘No no no no no no no’ to cover up a weak cover of Black Lace’s ‘We’re Having a Gang Bang’; are about as accomplished as those jokes seen in a sixth form pantomime.
Compere de Plume repeatedly apologised to our audience for the conduct of her co-stars and ironically this could not have been a more apt act. The Full Brontë is dishonest in its disregard for the sisters themselves and drearily unfunny in itself. Perhaps it is our turn to draw inspiration from Charlotte Brontë’s imagining of the burned-out theatre: As ‘extinct and forgotten’ with the ‘crowd all vanished and gone.’