In Review

Wuthering Heights on stage: an ‘emotionally epic’ adaptation

Emma Rice’s touring production is packed with her ‘trademark troubadour quirkiness’

Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights – that tale of “turbulent passions and terrible cruelties” set high on the Yorkshire moors – is “commonly read in adolescence, when one’s sensibilities may be particularly susceptible to its intoxicating highs and lows”, said Donald Hutera in The Times.

Theatre director Emma Rice fell for the book as a teenager – and her lifelong passion for it is clear in every scene of this “emotionally epic” adaptation. Lasting nearly three hours, the play (which is due to arrive at the National Theatre in February as part of its long tour) is a real “corker”: inventive, absorbing and brilliantly acted.

Rice’s staging is packed with her “trademark troubadour quirkiness”, said Quentin Letts in The Sunday Times. There are dances, puppets, songs, “ceaseless movement, bohemian feyness”, and a “seemingly mad jumble of props” that actually help clarify the tangled plot.

In one bold move, Rice has replaced the housekeeper-narrator figure with a kind of “all-singing, all-dancing” Greek chorus embodying the windswept moor, said Georgina Brown in the Daily Mail. Led by Nandi Bhebhe, it howls up hurricanes and helps the audience keep track of the convoluted storylines. It’s a daring concept, thrillingly done – and typical of this “wildly imaginative, exhilarating piece of theatre”.

The cast is strong, with many kept busy in multiple roles, said Claire Allfree in The Daily Telegraph. Lucy McCormick’s “pleasingly yobbish, untameable” Cathy is like a “more unhinged Hedda Gabler”. Ash Hunter makes the “diabolical” Heathcliff “sympathetic” without remotely glamorising him. And Katy

Owen is a “comic force” in roles including Cathy’s love rival Isabella, said Arifa Akbar in The Guardian. Ultimately, I found all the “audacious theatricality” and kookiness to be both “ingenious and faintly ridiculous”, like a “postmodern literary satire” that risks having no real depth. Yet the show does “build its world, albeit a conspicuously artificial one, and hold us in it with an intensity of its own”. It is funny, charming – and “exquisitely” done.

Bristol Old Vic, and touring until May 2022 (wisechildrendigital.com)

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