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Wuthering Heights at the Lyttelton Theatre | Review

Ash Hunter (Heathcliff) and Katy Owen (Isabella Linton_Linton Heathcliff). Credit Steve Tanner.
Ash Hunter (Heathcliff) and Katy Owen (Isabella Linton_Linton Heathcliff). Credit Steve Tanner.

My earliest recollection of Wuthering Heights was a busybody schoolteacher who insisted that, when I attempted to take a copy of it out of the school library, it would baffle me, and I should select something more suitable. It naturally follows that I eventually read it anyway, borrowing a copy from the local public library instead. She would probably have enjoyed this theatrical adaptation of the novel, which does something that brings to mind another childhood memory: when studying Shakespeare, the question was asked how an audience would know a scene was set late at night. It is through the dialogue – for instance, someone is tired and wants to go to bed, or tells someone else not to speak so loudly so as not to disturb those already asleep.

Here, the audience knows what is going on by way of signs written on blackboards in block capitals, like ‘ring girls’ at a boxing match who hold up a big sign telling everyone which round is about to be played. Wuthering Heights doesn’t, admittedly, have the easiest storyline to follow, but this production goes too far the other way, over-explaining the narrative and, frankly, patronising the audience by doing so. It’s like one of those corporate business presentations where someone is introduced, only for that person to (re)introduce themselves anyway, probably to assert their self-importance.

Stagehands are often visible, assisting with pushing and pulling pieces of set on and off, which is more distracting than the production had perhaps intended it to be. Everyone, except Ash Hunter’s broody Heathcliff, is The Moor: we know this because they keep singing, periodically, in unison, “I am The Moor”. I still have no idea what The Moor does or is responsible for, if anything. This is a production that comes across as a box-ticking exercise, a display of various theatrical devices to demonstrate what can be done, irrespective of whether it adds anything to the narrative. Puppetry? Tick. Random rock-star musical number? Tick. Cast member running out into the stalls only to run back on stage without having achieved anything? Tick.

Catherine (Lucy McCormick) becomes so hysterical so often that any sense of empathy for the character is slowly but irrevocably incinerated, while the likes of Edgar Linton (Sam Archer) and various other wealthier people in the neighbourhood are so stereotypically posh it’s a surprise their families’ coats of arms weren’t on display. And then there’s this sung lyric: “We are so confused / What is going on? / What the bloody hell is happening?” I couldn’t have said it better myself, and all the hysterics and over-emotions meant it was difficult to maintain interest.

It can be glorious when a show presents a comprehensive range of human emotion (Come From Away being a case in point). Here, however, the changes in mood and atmosphere are so abrupt that the effect is jarring. The work that the production puts in to make sure everyone in the audience is on the same page, story-wise, is somewhat undone: after all, is there much point in caring about what went on before if the show’s characters themselves seem to want to forget what happened in previous scenes?

A strong cast does well with what they have been given, though sadly this rambling and unfocused production doesn’t hit the spot.

2 gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

The epic story of love, revenge and redemption.

Rescued from the Liverpool docks as a child, Heathcliff (Ash Hunter) is adopted by the Earnshaws and taken to live at Wuthering Heights.

In their daughter Catherine (Lucy McCormick), Heathcliff finds a kindred spirit and a fierce love ignites. But, when forced apart, a brutal chain of events is unleashed.

Shot through with music and dance, Emma Rice (Bagdad Cafe, Wise Children, Brief Encounter) transforms Emily Brontë’s masterpiece into a passionate, powerful and uniquely theatrical experience.

Wuthering Heights
A co-production with Wise Children, Bristol Old Vic and York Theatre Royal
based on the novel by Emily Brontë
adapted by Emma Rice
From 3 Feb to 19 Mar 2022
Running Time: approx. 2 hours 50 mins including one interval

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