A blogger, a screenwriter and a slam poet: New play re-imagines the Brontës for a modern age

THEY are the creators of some of the best loved works to come from Yorkshire's literary world, with faces and characters we have come to know from the front of chocolate boxes, souvenir tea towels and a host of television period dramas.

The cast and creators of Jane Hair, pictured at Bradford College Hair Salon. From left: Writer Kirsty Smith,, Kat Rose-Martin - writer and Emily, Ryan Graves as Branwell, Rosie Fox as Anne, and Jeanette Percival, as Charlotte. Picture James Hardisty.

But in the latest attempt to bring the Brontës to a wider audience, the world-famous literary family take on a more modern outlook - channelling their creative urges into blogging, writing screenplays and slam poetry.

The new theatre production Jane Hair: The Brontës Restyled, tells the story of Emily, Charlotte, Anne and Branwell’s path to fame, and is set, and performed in, a hairdressing salon.

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It will tour venues in the heart of Brontë Country, at a time when accusations have been rife that there has been a effort to “dumb-down” the appeal of the novels, after actress Lily Cole was appointed as a creative partner of the Brontë Society, prompting the resignation of one of its prominent members.

A more traditional take on the sisters - a still from the BBC's Bronte drama, To Walk Invisible.

But for the creators of the new play, and for the Arts Council and the Brontë Society, who have supported it, the production is an opportunity to celebrate the literary family.

It was devised by Haworth-born writer and television producer Kirsty Smith, of Sneaky Experience, and actress Kat Rose-Martin, who is from Bradford and spent last year touring with Northern Broadsides as well as playing Britain’s first female boxer as part of Hull City of Culture.

Miss Smith said: “We both felt there wasn’t anything out there about the Brontës that connected with us as local women. These were brilliant, inspirational women from Bradford who did things that weren’t expected of them.

“We want to introduce them to people who know nothing about the Brontës. A lot of people only know them as faces on a tea towel and may be surprised by what they achieved.

The appointment of Lily Cole as a creative partner of the Bronte Society caused controversy.

“Old school Brontë fans may be a little surprised by their presentation, but the play is about how hard they worked on their path to fame.”

The play will be performed at Keighley and Bradford colleges, and at a hair salon in Thornton, later this month - just weeks after the Brontë name was again at the centre of controversy when former Brontë Society member and author Nick Holland, claimed Ms Cole’s appointment had turned what will be the 200th anniversary year of Emily Brontë’s birth into a “rank farce”.

Miss Smith said the modern take on the Brontë family story, which sees the family work in a hairdressers while pursuing their own creative projects - is an opportunity for more people to “have ownership” of the Brontës.

“The Brontës have been dead for 200 years - no one knows what they would think of anything today,” she said. “Let’s not be afraid to talk about them in a new way.”

A more traditional take on the sisters - a still from the BBC's Bronte drama, To Walk Invisible.

Pete Massey, director north of the Arts Council England, which provided £14,000 for the project, said: “The idea of Charlotte, Emily and Anne working in a modern Bradford hair salon is inspired and is an excellent way to bring new audiences to the sisters and their work while delighting people who are already fans.”

Audience development officer at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, Jenna Holmes, said: “One of our roles is to partner with artists on new work that will surprise or challenge people’s preconceptions of the Brontes.

“We recognised that Jane Hair would bring new and different audiences to the Brontes’ and were happy to support Sneaky Experience to develop and promote the piece.”

THE PLAY will be performed at hair salons at Keighley and Bradford Colleges, plus in the heart of Brontë Country in Thornton, where the siblings were born.

The appointment of Lily Cole as a creative partner of the Bronte Society caused controversy.

Head Of Department at Keighley College, Victoria Aird, said its salon was the “perfect setting” for a play celebrating artistic excellence from Keighley, while a Bradford College spokesman said it was excited to be part of an “innovative performance”.

Starring actors Kat Rose-Martin, Rosie Fox, Jeanette Percival and Ryan Greaves, tickets are still available for two shows at Bradford College on January 26, and at De Luca Hair Boutique in Thornton on January 27 (meet at the Brontë Birthplace at 7.15pm) via www.eventbrite.com