Adapted and directed by Emma Rice (based on the novel by Emily Brontë)
National Theatre, Wise Children, Bristol Old Vic & York Theatre Royal
The Lowry, Salford
May 3-May 7, 2022; 2hr 55min
Emma Rice's Wuthering Heights is a strange beast. At its heart is the story line of the classic dark novel of doomed love in the Yorkshire moors, but there is also music, dance, puppetry, satire and even comedy. Yet on the whole it works well.
A very young Heathcliff is found alone in the Liverpool docks and brought to Wuthering Heights by Mr Earnshaw, to the bemusement of his children, Hindley and Cathy (all the children represented by puppets). It isn’t long before Hindley, jealous of the attention Heathcliff receives, begins to hate him, while Cathy discovers that Heathcliff is her true soulmate.
As they grow up, posh neighbours the Lintons get involved. Relationships intensify and complicate. As one of the characters says, they all seem to be related to each other and so many of the names are similar!
Lucy McCormick as the adult Cathy and Liam Tamne as Heathcliff make an attractive but at times somewhat unconvincing couple. McCormick plays her role as a brash, unruly Yorkshire lass complete with broad accent. But at times, heightened passion tips over into histrionics. There is no doubt that she can sing though.
Tamne comes into his own less as the vulnerable young outsider than as Heathcliff the successful businessman, hiding his pain beneath a harsh and cruel exterior.
A special mention for Tama Phethean who plays both Hindley Earnshaw and then his son, Hareton Earnshaw. He plays both roles well but to the latter he brings some lightness, some understanding and above all some sympathy to someone who is really in love.
The main comedic element of the production is brought by Katy Owen, who plays both Isabella Linton and Little Linton, her son. The physicality of this actress is impressive, but the pantomime silliness of the two roles may not be to everyone’s taste – particularly Bronte purists.
Bronte’s original tale was told by Nelly Dean, the housekeeper. Instead here is a Greek chorus as narrator and commentator in the shape of the moor itself, led by the excellent Nani Bhebe. Against a background projection of blustery clouds, gathering black birds and stormy rain, the chorus holds the action together, weaving together disparate scenes with minimal set (some moveable scenery of doors and windows and some puzzling stacks of chairs), dancing, singing and live music.
This is the most successful element of the production – its theatricality.
Info and tickets here