7. My Brontë Story

I had intended this post to have many things but I have been busy for a few days and much distracted. My friend Naomi had a baby! Welcome to the world Mathilda Florence Hennessy (b. 30/09/2015) and congratulations to Naomi and Ian on bringing such a beautiful light into the world.

Naomi and I first met in 2004 where we were in the show Cider with Rosie together (see embarrassing old pic below). She played Rosie Waterbury (and a few other characters) and I played the young Laurie Lee. Since then, we have acted many times opposite each other, all when I acted as a boy (for want of an easier description). We were often cast as lovebirds: in the 2013 production of The Merchant of Venice where I was Gratiano and she Nerissa, and more notably in the 2014 production of Brontë where she played Charlotte Brontë and I took the roles of Constantin Héger and Arthur Bell Nicholls.

Rosie Waterbury and Laurie Lee – Cider with Rosie, 2005

Shylock, Gratiano, Nerissa, Salarina and Solania – The Merchant of Venice, 2013

It was this show, Brontë (written by Polly Teale), that first sparked my interest in the Brontë sisters and, looking back, I find it astounding I lived a life without them in it for so long. My interest was continually reinforced by a number of peculiar occurrences that happened about that time. Everything suddenly made sense to me in a Brontë-ish context.

Constantin Héger and Charlotte Brontë – Brontë, 2014

In 2013, I visited Brussels, and then one of my aunts sadly passed away before Christmas (think Aunt Branwell), and then during the Christmas period I suffered a M Héger-like situation. As well as all of this, Lana Del Rey had just released Tropico – which was, for the introductory montage and Body Electric at least, a homage to getting in contact with your spiritual ancestors. This spoke to me: Del Rey was meeting Elvis, Adam and Eve, John Wayne, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, Marilyn Monroe. Due to the research involved with being cast in Brontë, a fervent study of the Brontë sisters began: my own spiritual ancestors, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, were being found.

I was also finding my feet academically. I had finished my MA and wanted to write something on Hans Christian Andersen and The Snow Queen, and I wanted to philosophically examine the treatment of cetaceans by the Faroe Islands, and I wanted to save the world from homophobia and racism (and these are all things that I want yet to do), but the Brontës suddenly got in the way of that.

The night of 18th February 2014, I had a dream in which I was in my old house (which is my consistent dream location) and there was a tiny figure running about outside – a shadow viewed through the windows. Oddly, my old house is not unlike the Brontë Parsonage; a remote location, sparsely furnished, near to a village but otherwise with access to remote wilderness. I was definitely a child that grew up in the middle of nowhere. In the dream, a creature, this sprite, was zooming around the house, and I felt afraid, the same spooky feeling one gets when considering ghosts (not something I make a habit of). And then, at the last minute, a face appeared at the kitchen window, and in fear I jolted awake, the face imprinted on the backs of my eyes like nothing I had ever seen. Human, but with these striking, staring eyes, glaring through the glass at me.

It’s important to know that at the time I was commissioned to complete some drawings for the Courtauld Institute’s dress history department, so my mind was in a very creative place, soaking in everything, and my dreams are always very vivid anyway. A few days later, on 23rd February, I had another dream. It was just after 5 o’clock in the morning, and this tiny woman was sat at the foot of the bed. I recognized the face as that I had dreamt about before. She expressed some guilt and remorse, and was much less intimidating, and we spoke a while before I woke up. It was later that day that I first came upon the Brontë photograph after trying to find as many pictures of the Brontës as I could and ultimately googling ‘Brontë photograph’, wondering if ever a photograph had been taken – and I recognized Charlotte’s face as that which had come to me in the two dreams.

‘Charlotte’ in the Brontë photograph

At this time, of course, we were preparing for the production of Brontë. Each day before we went live the cast got together on the stage and had the tech guys plays Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, which we all sang along to as a warm-up. There were seven of us, and 104 lighting cues, and we received many kind words and compliments from friends, relatives and members of the public who came to watch. Looking back, I think that the casting was slightly wrong, and certain parts of the show I would change, but at the time I do not think it could have been better.

Then I began to read the biography by Juliet Barker (which was kindly given to me by the director of the show), and the poems of Emily, and I started to get more and more familiar with the Brontë story – a familiarity that has grown to a deep and certain expertise, not to mention one that I have paralleled endlessly against my own life experiences.

The photograph I took of the portrait when first I saw it in real life.

On the 5th March, I went in to London and wandered down to the National Portrait Gallery so as to examine the Brontë portraits for the first time – and as I arrived, a woman walked into the room and met me and said, ‘Are you here for the talk?’ Puzzled I asked her which talk, and she said, ‘Well – the talk on the Brontë portraits’ ! I learned more and more – and felt some sympathy with Charlotte and Arthur Bell Nicholls, who concealed the two Brontë portraits: Charlotte clearly did not want them found, least of all hanging in the National Portrait Gallery. More strange phenomena happened, spurring creative visions. That April, I saw a lapwing on the moors. The following April, it was a merlin. A year and a half later, I began this blog. Hopefully there’s much more to come ..! x

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