Last Updated on 17th February 2022
Paul T Davies reviews Emma Rice’s production of Wuthering Heights now playing at the National Theatre.
The main draw to see Emma Rice’s production of Wuthering Heights is Emma Rice herself. Her adaptation and inventive restaging and interpretation of Bronte’s classic novel brings forward new themes, and while axing some characters, throws light on the true heroes of the story. You begin to realise that Kate Bush focussed on only one aspect of the story and that Heathcliff may not be worth wandering the moor for. One original feature is that the wild and windy moor here is a character, a Greek chorus that works as narrator and commentator.
Central to the story is Heathcliff, and if you check the dictionary definition of “brooding” you’ll find Ash Hunter’s name there, an excellent performance of a difficult, complex character, his ethnicity and mysterious origins, hinted at in the book, central here as an explanation of his outsider status. Lucy McCormick is a steely Catherine, punky, vulnerable, resisting all and refusing even to save herself. The music by Ian Ross perfectly captures each mood, from pounding punk to folk to angelic chorus. The ensemble move terrifically as the Moor, but Nandi Bhebhe’s voice as Leader of the Moor was a little weak at my performance. Sam Archer is a brilliant Lockwood and Edgar Hilton, perfect comedic skills and tragedy, and once again Katy Owen brings her extraordinary physical and comedy skills to the fore as Isabella Linton and Little Linton, quietly breaking your heart too. But the stand-out performance, for me, is Tama Phethean as Hindley Earnshaw, but particularly as a muscular, rough Hareton Earnshaw, the true hero of this tale, a destroyed man restored by love and Witney White’s beautiful Catherine Linton, their story demonstrating love blossoming among the wildness- the ending is gorgeously romantic.
It’s not perfect, frustratingly so, because it almost is. It’s a tad long, particularly the 100-minute first half, and there is a little too much Banshee screaming. Occasionally there is too much going on, sometimes less is more. (No pun intended!) This is more than balanced out by stage pictures that will stay with you, and performances that tell the tale with skill. Rice’s best production since creating Wise Children, catch it here or on tour.