It had been a long time since we’d been in a full Bristol Old Vic, hanging out in the bar with a drink in hand wondering what treats await in that glorious auditorium. Well that spirit of 2019 was back for press night of the much anticipated Wuthering Heights directed by Emma Rice. We absolutely loved her previous show, Malory Towers, but we loved this one even more!
This adaption of Wuthering Height is Emily Brontë’s classic novel as you’ve never seen it before. As you’d expect, it is very dark in places but it’s also hilarious at times and has wonderful musical moments.
Unlike the book which is narrated by servant Nelly Dean, the story in Rice’s show is told by the Yorkshire Moors itself. Taking human form, the Moor is a chorus led by the wonderful Nandi Bhebhe, who sometimes narrates the tale and at other times becomes a character in it herself.
The set is simple but gloriously effective. As the show opens and Lockwood staggers onto stage battling a storm and looking for shelter in Wuthering Heights, the cast make the sound of wind and the sky is projected onto a screen. Wuthering Heights itself is a piece of set that is moved around the stage by production staff.
The comedic moments are plenty with a particularly enjoyable nod to the well known confusion that many readers face when trying to get their heads around the complicated family connections. Nina bought the book recently and has had that very experience! (Top tip: There’s a useful family tree in the programme which is delivered sustainably via a QR code on a flyer).
More funny moments are delivered by the awesome Katy Owen who plays Isabella Linton and her son Little Linton, described by The Guardian reviewer as “the incarnation of Walter the Softy from the Beano”.
There’s also Dr Kenneth, a pantomine-like character played brilliantly by Craig Johnson, who deals with the multiple deaths with humour. We are kept up-to-date by the passing of the family members by chalk board signs carried across stage by the cast.
Lucy McCorrmick is brilliant as Cathy. At one point, she breaks into a fantastic heavy rock routine that certainly isn’t one the Bronte sisters would recognise!
Ash Hunter is superb as Heathcliff. Unlike others, he plays his role with few comedic moments, reflecting the outsider that he is. He has a Caribbean accent which stands out and the suspicion with which others view him hits home with problems we face in the 21st century. Writing in the programme, Emma Rice said she was provoked to re-read her old copy of Wuthering Heights after being “horrified by scenes from the refugee camps at Calais Jungle and enraged by the negotiations about how many unaccompanied children the UK was willing to take whilst not actually taking any”.
With Heathcliff an unaccompanied child himself, Rice realised the story is “not one of romance but of brutality, cruelty and revenge. This was not a gothic romance, this was a tragedy; a tragedy of what might happen if, as individuals as well as society, we allow cruelty to take hold. “Be careful what you seed” my pen wrote, and it kept writing, giving new voice to my adult rage.”
The cruelty that this Heathcliff displays is all the more shocking amid the quirky moments and funny lines.
This is a wonderful adaption that breathes new life into a much loved story. The anger and passion that we all know so well is there but so is humour and music that make the three hours fly by. Don’t miss it!
Images by Steve Tanner.
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