“He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.“
Emily Brontë ~ Wuthering Heights
On the bleak Yorkshire moors, Nelly – the maid at Wuthering Heights shares a tragic story of the history of the tempestuous events that took place years before; of the intense relationship between the foundling Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw; and how Catherine, forced to choose between passionate, tortured Heathcliff and gentle, well-bred Edgar Linton, surrendered to the expectations of her class. As Heathcliff’s bitterness and vengeance at his betrayal is visited upon the next generation, their innocent heirs must struggle to escape the legacy of the past…
Although I am Team Charlotte when it comes to the Brontë Sisters, I’ve always been drawn to Wuthering Heights. Perhaps it’s the surprisingly dark, bleak tones of the story, or the backdrop of the wild, unforgiving moors that create a metaphor for Heathcliff’s character.
It is a dark, violent and tragic tale and this production immediately captures this with Ben Ormerod’s use of shade and light throughout. Considering the slow pace of the novel, the production is slick and fast-paced, with a hybrid feel of modern and traditional costumes and props. Although parts of this – like the transfer of Earnshaw’s jacket, Linton’s cape and the beer cans – work well, the jogging bottoms feel a step too far and I would have preferred more steam punk, less sportswear.
Ben Lewis’s modern take on the script however, does work and it provides a new interpretation of the classic story, making it more accessible to a contemporary and younger audience. There is even humour at times, but at its heart, there is the violence and passion that make Wuthering Heights so controversial.
Acting is excellent, with slick character and costume changes; Ike Bennett is a fantastic Heathcliff: brooding, dangerous and addictive. His chemistry with Lua Bairstow (Cathy) is clear and their childlike games work really well. His scene with the vegetables is violent and horrifying in its symbolic interpretation and is a brilliant artistic touch. The knife throw is also excellent.
Staging continues the dark, oppressive theme, with good use of multiple levels to show parts of the story, but also the family tree, which seems to discreetly elevate the tragedy within. It is quite a chaotic production and won’t be for everyone; yet it works and brings certain elements of the story to the fore, asking audiences to consider why Wuthering Heights still resonates with modern readers, and how they would react in a similar situation.
Thank you to Amanda Howson for the press tickets. Opinions my own.
Wuthering Heights is a Royal & Derngate, Northampton, China Plate, Inspector Sands and Oxford Playhouse co-production.