“How is anyone expected to follow this? All the names sound the same and everyone is so very, very cross with me!”
So, laments Mr Lockwood, new tenant of literary anti-hero Heathcliff, and our introduction to an irreverent and unique take on the Emily Brontë classic.
For those not familiar with the text, it follows Heathcliff, taken in as an orphan from the docks of Liverpool to the wild moors of Yorkshire by the well-meaning Mr Earnshaw. He is bullied and resented by Earnshaw’s son Hindley, but finds solace in his friendship with daughter Cathy, which evolves into an intense and toxic love affair.
The fact that Emma Rice is the wizard behind tonight’s curtain is the first and biggest clue that the famous novel is likely to have been turned on its head. Her short-lived tenure as Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe ended over a squabble on authenticity, with her use of modern lighting and sound techniques proving too much for the board of directors.
Rice’s whimsical approach is as front and centre as ever, with no shortage of the effects that had Shakespeare purists turning their nose up, cramming in puppetry, dance and folk music to boot. But Simon Baker and Jai Morjaria’s work, on sound and video, and lighting respectively, successfully evoke the wild isolation of the moors, complementing the minimalistic yet effective set and costume design from Vicki Mortimer and engaging choreography from Etta Murfitt.
There’s a sense of precision to it all that allows our ensemble cast to bring Rice’s adaptation to wonderful, vivid and surprisingly comedic life.
Cathy and Heathcliff are in the magnificent, expert hands of Lucy McCormick and Liam Tamne. McCormick is almost never offstage, constantly crackling like a firework full of ferocious emotion.
Tamne is as brooding as one would long for, artfully taking us through Heathcliffe’s consumption by, and descent into, hatred and cruelty towards most, whilst retaining undying love for his beloved Cathy. His Indian subcontinent accent retains the notes of anti-colonialism that underpinned the West End version through previous Heathcliff, Sam Archer’s, Jamaican twang.
Both are excellent in the bursts of song they are given, (no – not that one) with Cathy’s heavy metal (yes you read that right) ‘I am the earth’ number being a literal mic-drop moment.
They are superbly supported by a multi-role ensemble with most notable performances from Nandi Bhebhe as the Leader of a personified, ‘Greek chorus’ moor and Katy Owen as Isabella Linton in part one, and her son, Little Linton – who looks like Pinocchio and sounds like Joe Pasquale – in part two.
Bhebhe is enjoyably dry and arch as her troupe follow the fortunes of the moor’s visitors, and Owen is the stand-out source of much of tonight’s hilarity, running full pelt into every opportunity for a laugh via memorable physical comedy and killer one-liners.
With supporting musicians that looks like escapees from Mumford and Sons, nods to spoof shows like ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ or ‘The 39 Steps’, and occasional language that would make Brontë blush, Rice and her gang have thrown the kitchen sink, cupboards, and fridge-freezer at the show. And you will not be able to stop watching.
Despite running at well over two and a half hours, the pace doesn’t drag. Tragedy and comedy are well-balanced and our cast and crew work in near-perfect sync. And despite Mr Lockwood’s earlier protestations, even those not familiar with the text will follow proceedings with relative ease. It’s a compelling and visually engaging masterclass in the power of theatrical flair when telling well-loved tales.
Wuthering Heights in on at the Lowry till Saturday 7th May. For tickets, visit https://thelowry.com/whats-on/wuthering-heights-2/
Reviewer: Lou Steggals
Reviewed: 4th May 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★