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Bronte letters inspire queer retelling

The Australian production of The Moors, directed by Kate Gaul, will premiere in Sydney as part of the Mardi Gras Festival next month. Featuring Romy Bartz, Thomas Campbell and Enya Daly, it revolves around a governess, Emilie, who is lured to a 19th-century parsonage by a series of letters from Master Bramwell.

There she finds herself attracted to his older sister Agatha and entangled in the lives of younger sister Hudley and their scullery maid Marjory. Then there’s Mastiff, a family dog who falls in love with a moorhen – one of the surrealist flourishes that emerge throughout the play.

“The younger sister wants to be seen by the governess, the governess is seen by the older sister in a way that lets her access an agency and power that she didn’t think she was capable of,” Silverman says.

​”The dog is seen by the bird in a way that he hasn’t really been seen by anyone. It’s really about: are we ever able to see each other in ways that aren’t damaging?”

Gothic romance, a genre bound up in Victorian ideals of patriarchy and morality, lends itself powerfully to queer re-readings. For Silverman, who says English playwrights Sarah Kane and Caryl Churchill have helped shape her theatrical sensibility, moving away from the naturalist traditions that are often a mainstay of American theatre is creatively empowering. Playing with style and genre, she says, can give rise to radical possibilities – both on and off the stage.

“Theatre doesn’t reduce itself to a soundbite, it demands that you sit in a communal space and grapple with nuance collectively and I find that vital and refreshing,” she says. “But there has to be a reason if I’m asking people to assemble their bodies in a room.

“I’ve been to a few different productions where the characters within the play have reinvented themselves and it changed my own ability to reinvent myself. It helped me ask myself, ‘what is possible?’ That is my hope for The Moors and for all my work in theatre.”

The Moors is at the Seymour Centre until March 1.

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