My earliest memory of Wuthering Heights was when I tried to take a copy of it out at the school library but was prevented from doing so because it was believed I was too young to understand Emily Brontë’s novel. Believing myself to be rather precocious, I found a way of getting hold of it anyway (I hadn’t heard of Project Gutenberg back then), but one does not need to have read it, in whole or in part, to get one’s head around the plotline of this version of the story.
It takes a little while to get used to it all – everyone’s dressed in white, the housekeeper Nelly (Susannah Greenow) as well as her employer Hindley (Oscar George Copper), the central character Cathy (Emma Torrens) as well as her love interests Edgar (Joseph Folley) and Heathcliff (Samuel Terry). Having suspended disbelief (I kept a straight face at not having period costumes, but struggled to do so at the sight of plastic water bottles, this show being set in the early nineteenth century), there were times when the performance started to feel like a play with songs rather than a musical, such was the extent of spoken word scenes between musical numbers.
But when these characters do sing, to borrow an advertising strapline from a popular beverage, good things come to those who wait. The harmonies are easy on the ear, and while this isn’t, for the most part, a musical with much choreography – Cathy seems to spend more time lying down than dancing – the solo numbers are a delight, even when expressing feelings and emotions of sorrow, pain and despair. Hindley’s love of alcohol is portrayed well, as is his penchant for gambling; the latter works in Heathcliff’s favour. The former is a moment of comic relief, with Copper’s Hindley parading around energetically.
Keeping the focus on a small number of characters works here, though there is something odd about the entire set of characters that feature in the second half of the novel being excised completely, not even put into some kind of epilogue. The previous eight Fringe shows I’d seen before this one were either stand up comedy sets or comedy plays, so the pathos in this one took some (re)adjustment – the tragedy of the Brontë novel is depicted quite admirably here.
Emma Torrens’ Cathy remains compelling to the end, even as the character becomes increasingly dislikeable. Straight after the performance I attended, Torrens was presented with the Derek Award for Best Voice – I’m not aware of who the other nominees were or who was on the judging panel but I thought she was a worthy winner, with a beautiful soprano voice that filled the theatre space gloriously. It’s not always an easy watch, particularly as Heathcliff’s earnest pleading in the novel is retained in this production: “…you said I killed you – haunt me, then! […] Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad!”
It comes within a hair’s breadth of melodrama on occasion, but it is nonetheless a passionate and heartfelt production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
This new musical by Michael Bascom tells the story of Heathcliff and Cathy, two lovers almost psychically bound to each other but continually thwarted by family, society, and God.
Heathcliff has just returned to Wuthering Heights after mysteriously disappearing for several years having made his wealth, but Cathy is now bound by other circumstances.
The sun shines over the moors, but inside the storm of vengeance is brewing. In a retelling of Emily Bronte’s classic, this new musical tells the story of a passion which transcends life – and death –
Composer/MD – Michael Bascom
Hindley/Director – Oscar George Copper
Cathy – Emma Torrens
Edgar – Joseph Folley
Nelly – Susannah Greenow
Heathcliff – Samuel Terry
theSpace @ Venue 45, 63 Jeffrey Street, EH1 1DH
Until 24 August 2019
22:25 (1 hour 15 minutes)