A while ago we posted a request from York Theatre Royal, looking for two young boys and a dog for parts in their forthcoming production of “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall”. Well, they succeeded in doing some excellent casting, as you will see if you go to the play.
Based on the 1848 novel by Anne Brontë, “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” is set in nineteenth century Yorkshire, where a mysterious young widow Helen Graham and her son Arthur arrive at the desolate estate of Wildfell Hall. Isolating herself from the village, Helen soon becomes the subject of local speculation. Intrigued by this beautiful and enigmatic woman, a young farmer, Markham, gradually falls in love. Torn apart with her attraction to Markham and the secrets of her past, Helen finally reveals the shocking history she thought she’d left behind.
What she had left behind (spoiler alert, but you’ve probably read the book) was a dissolute and abusive husband, a difficult part excellently played by Mark Small, who is able to make us believe that the lovely Helen had willingly married him. He could be charming and seductive; only later did she discover that he could also be selfish, spiteful and cruel.
This is a play which works on several levels. At its simplest, it’s a love story, or a Victorian melodrama. It’s also a cautionary tale about the tragic outcome of alcohol-fuelled dissipation. But it is at its best in highlighting the plight of women in the mid nineteenth century, with no resort against husbands who spent their fortunes, abused and abandoned them, took away their children and denied them any freedom. Mothers, take your daughters to see this play if you want them to realise there is more to life than the latest designer jeans.
And the dog is brilliant.
“The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” runs at York Theatre Royal until Saturday; tickets available on line.