Written by Emily Brontë
Adapted and Directed by Emma Rice
A young boy abandoned on the Liverpool docks, his skin a different shade than those around him. A boy beaten and abused by his new brother, adored by his new father and will change the life of his new sister – and it is only when he loses both of those who care deeply, that something malevolent emerges.
This is the birth of Heathcliff. Protagonist, but no hero, of Emily Bronte’s 1847 Wuthering Heights. A man distorted by his thirst for revenge, and his passion for the young girl, Catherine, he grows alongside. A staple of Gothic Romance, the story has been adapted repeatedly. Still, this time, Wise Children and Emma Rice examine different aspects while maintaining the allure of the original.
There’s tremendous difficulty in resisting a world of ghosts, passion, and anguish, and in stripping back the fineries, the garments and tongue, and how much of Brontë’s novel is genuinely a Gothic Romance; where the beasts that dwell in Wuthering Heights, or the neighbouring Grange, are little more than ravenous creatures of lust, revenge, and importance. And where we all at one point or another thought we were a Heathcliff, misunderstood, ignored, come to the realisation that behind the grandeur, the self-inflicted agony belays something deeper behind the man. Rice manifests a sensational adaptation, which places power within the land, and rings the language of the original in unique mannerisms, with visual tricks, strong performances, and an original musical composition.
Openly (perhaps too openly) admitting the difficulty in transferring the plot within the small time frame, many lines and lyrics forge a bridge for the audience – frequently bringing chalkboard names to reinforce character identities, or openly discussing the confusing elements of time passage through Rice’s lyrics. Lyrics Ian Ross’ original composition tremendously enhances the otherworldly nature of the show – fizzing the blood, encouraging audiences to open up and experience the story.
The band, consisting of Sid Goldsmith, (Musical Director) Nadine Lee, and Renell Shaw, obey the whim of the Moors, given life and presence by Rice’s exclusion of certain aspects, and the creation of new ones. Nandi Bhebhe, a personification of the Moors, encapsulates the ingenuity of the piece, garbed in almost Vicki Mortimer’s Folk-Shakespearean garb, fit for a Midsummer’s Dream. Bhebhe’s focus of the story, is a guide for the audience, as we encounter these rouges and switch between the present and past.
Etta Murfitt’s choreography infuses additional dimensions, allowing a more fundamental recognition of despair, utilised by Bhebhe, McCormick and especially Katy Owen who uses her entire form to transition between Isabella Linton and Little Linton, son of Heathcliff. But the movement extends beyond traditional (and more experimental) dance, enabling rich comedic sequences with Sam Archer’s wide stance and limbs akimbo introduction as Lockwood, battling the winds of the Moor.
Distorted, a waifish spectre, ever-present onstage but unable to engage with the flow of time, trapped at the skirts of life, only able to observe their precious Heathcliff, their daughter, Catherine Earnshaw nee Linton was not always a ghost of her own house. Lucy McCormick, more than anyone, has a duty to carry a character so often misjudged – a fiercely energetic woman, a devourer of the banal and chaser of enjoyments, McCormick’s presence is notable through the performance – even when remaining silent for significant periods. There is undoubted chemistry she shares with the cast, not only the blazing passions of Heathcliff, but the manipulations of her neighbours, and the mournful, sorrowing gaze she shares with her daughter.
Even with an emotional charge epic of storytelling, there are little in the way of positive role models, even fewer of what we may call ‘heroes’. And for the charm of Witney White’s pure and dedicated Cathy, daughter of Catherine and Edgar Linton, or the brutish redemption of Tama Phethean’s Hareton -there will always be Heathcliff.
Liam Tamne, swallowed by self-conceited revenge, avarice, and a desire to live beyond the view his darker complexion affords him. Left behind by Catherine, Heathcliff resides in a world of no meaning, a ramshackle collection of degraded memories and self-destruction, emulated in his manner of trashing Mortimer’s distressed set. Tamne succeeds in progressing Heathcliff’s physical changes, but more so in the mental and psychological strength, he gains at the loss of so much.
Rice taps into their aspect of Brontë’s genius, unhinged and exhilarating, a wildling freely running across the Moors, muddying its finest dressings. And truthfully, is a refreshingly contemporary piece to see in the King’s Theatre – a perfect setting where traditionalist collides with the modern, a firecracker of theatre.
In a world in which the Gods of Chaos and Revenge command much of the Moors, the voice given to the landscape itself, of a gnarling, yet embracing presence for those ‘lost’ to their homes, Rice adapts Wuthering Heights, not into a comedy, but a pastiche, an advancement handled with deft care and respect – while flinging open the doors of the Manor House to encourage as diverse an audience as possible. Rich, elegant, and sinfully macabre, Wise Children’s Wuthering Heights challenges the (unnecessary) pain refugees are stacked upon in this country, channelling this once Gothic Romance into the roots of what it is – a human tragedy, of societal cruelty, and giving those departed, a voice.
‘Where Tradition Collides with Modern’
Wuthering Heights runs at the King’s Theatre until May 28th.
Tickets for which may be obtained here.
Photo Credit – Steve Tanner