FEATURE: Underdog – The Other Other Brontë | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: L-R Rhiannon Clements as Anne, Gemma Whelan as Charlotte, Adele James as Emily

Northern Stage is a hub of unique productions, the most recent of which being Underdog: The Other Other Brontë, a play exploring the sibling dynamics that drove the Brontë sisters to fame, driven by jealousy. Natalie Ibu, Northern Stage’s Artistic Director, is directing this work, and claimed she knew that she should direct it “immediately after reading it”. As the summary says, it is not a story about well-behaved women. It’s a story about the power of words.

Gemma Whelan, best known as Yara Greyjoy in Game of Thrones, plays Charlotte Brontë, Adele James plays Emily Brontë, and Rhiannon Clements plays Anne, the eponymous ‘Underdog’. The play analyses the competitive aspects between each of the sisters, showing how they each develop as people and begin clashing with each other. It’s already won the 2020 Nick Drake Writers Award for Sarah Gordon, who previously wrote The Edit, which toured nationally. 

Accompanying the production itself, which is at Northern Stage from Friday 7th -Saturday 22nd June, a series of wraparound events will also take place. Here, we check out what’s on offer.


Revealing Art

All The Women We Could Have Been is a unique and impactful exhibition taking place throughout the production run, focusing on the lives of disabled women had external limitations not been there for them. Developed by the In/Visible National Disabled Women’s Art Collective, all of whom are 50+, this exhibition hopes to show the joy and poetic aspects of their lives, all through different forms of art, including collage, painting, embroidery and photography. 

The artists explore the narratives around disabled women, how older disabled women’s rights are seen, and how they celebrate their lives.

Exciting Novelists

Eliza Clark, a Newcastle native, has been the toast of recent book-focused media ever since her highly successful debut Boy Parts. Her newest book, Penance, continues her darkly compulsive style in a story about a murder amongst teenagers in a seaside town, and continues her legacy as one of the North East’s best new authors.

Selected as one of Granta Best of Young British Novelists in 2023, her career shows no signs of slowing down. Clark will read from her book, which celebrates its paperback publication, on Tuesday 18th June.

Creative Literature

Writer Karen Powell will be discussing her new book Fifteen Wild Decembers on Friday 14th June. The book, which was shortlisted for the 2023 Nero Book Awards, has been described as “atmospheric and raw”, and is a fictionalised biography of the sisters’ lives. It discusses Emily Brontë’s life from her childhood to her early death, and is from her perspective throughout. 

Her earlier book, The River Within, was awarded the Northern Writers TLC New Fiction Reads Prize as a draft. Book worms should also head to The Bound’s pop-up book market (12th-18th June), which will offer a curated collection of books written by groundbreaking women authors.

Live Music

In 2018, North East folk artists The Unthanks, beloved for their harmonies and connection to the region’s songs and traditions, were commissioned to create a new piece of work based on Emily Brontë’s poems for her 200th birthday. Their song cycle, Lines – Part Three: Emily Brontë, was recorded on her own piano, and they will be performing excerpts of the album and discussing the creation and process behind it on Saturday 15th June.

If a bit of Kate Bush is more up your street, Wednesday 12th June will see the Newcastle debut of Wuthering Nights, a club night celebrating her work. Expect costumes, a truly incredible amount of smoke machines, and faithful recreations of her famously expressive dancing.


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