10 February 2014

A chat with Mel Dodge about Charlotte Bronte

Rehearsals for Miss Brontë are well underway and the whole team are finally united in Wellington! Writer and performer Mel Dodge talks to publicist Debbie Fish about what inspired the creation of the show, working with Lyndee Jane Rutherford, and what Charlotte might have thought about it…

DF: When did your relationship with Charlotte Brontë begin?
MD: It was at school. At school I’d heard about her and at uni I did a literature degree and I fell in love with her. I fell in love with that whole era – Victorian literature and romantic literature and I was also really fascinated with who the people were, why they wrote what they had written and the idea of being a woman in those times was outrageous. They’d just be wives – if they were lucky. Otherwise they would mend people’s lace! And she had the balls to get out there and do what she wanted to do. So I think I was attracted to that, but I was also attracted to the romance of it all and the detail of it all.

DF: You also have another show Jane Austen is Dead, that’s coming from the same era…

MD: That one’s completely different! I also love Jane Austen, from that same time at uni – must have had good teachers – I lived in England at that time. Jane Austen is contemporary so it’s set in a bar and is all about love today. So it references Jane Austen a lot and there are bits of her characters there, but it’s totally contemporary, whereas this one is literally set there. I love that era and I’ve always wanted to do plays from that kind of era and no-one puts them on because they have casts of 12 or they’re wildly adapted so I kind of went ‘why don’t I just make something so I can play with that era myself’. 

DF: And when did you and Lyndee Jane start working together? You two seem to have a lot of fun.

MD: Lyndee Jane and I have known each other for many years. She first directed me in a Shakespeare compilation in the role of Lady Anne, from Richard III. We were both very proud of that piece and knew that we worked well together. It is so wonderful when you find a director whose style suits your own. It frees up the rehearsal room and allows you to create something magic! We laugh a lot in the rehearsal room and really enjoy each other's company. I think that ease and sense of joy can be seen in the play.

DF: What do you think Charlotte would think of the play?
MD: I’ve thought about that a lot. I think she would pissed off and flattered and intrigued. I think she’d be OK with people knowing about her and her life, but a lot of people around her life would have wanted that kept secret and I’ve done loads of research about that and the man she ended up marrying didn’t really want a lot of this stuff to come out. He wanted her friend Ellen, who kept a lot of her letters – he just wanted her to burn them. He asked her ‘please burn them – Charlotte’s going to stop writing to you if you don’t burn them’.

DF: So when did she get married?

MD: She got married just before she died. And it’s not in the play – I tried to put it in the play and I couldn’t. I was like ‘that’s not what this play’s about’. She ended up marrying her father’s curate, so one of the dudes from church. I think she was just lonely by that point – really, really lonely. But she died when she was pregnant. A lot of people think it was from dehydration when she was having morning sickness. 

DF: Her friend Mary came to Wellington – do you think Charlotte would have made the move if things had been different for her?
MD: I don’t think she ever would have left her family. So even when the siblings died she was super close to her dad, so it was all about looking after him. When she married that dude she said ‘the condition of marrying you is that we live at home with dad and you take over some of his jobs’. In her writings she thinks Mary is ace, she’s totally into Mary doing it. She’s sad about her leaving – she’s not surprised that she’s going off adventuring and doing really well. And they were really close in Brussels. When she went to Brussels and met Monsieur Heger, Mary was there then.

DF: Who do you think would be kicking themselves if they didn’t come see Miss Brontë at Circa?
MD: I feel like if you have any love for those kinds of books – a lot of people love Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre is the second-read book to the Bible! It’s massive! I feel like anyone who is a romantic, who knows what love is, and unrequited love and the pain of it and the beauty of it. And also the beauty of actually having your dreams attained. Actually achieving what no-one expects you to achieve. She just struggled. She spent years and years saying ‘I’m going to keep going’. And I think people get that.

Miss Brontë is on from 21 Feb – 15 March. To book, call the Circa Box Office on 801-7992 or visit www.circa.co.nz. Mel will also be speaking in the NZ Festival -Writers’ Week as part of ‘It’s Not Personal, It’s Business’ on the 7 March. To book for this visit www.festival.co.nz.

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