Reviewed by Matthew Forrest
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Emily Brontë’s one and only novel is a curious beast indeed, beloved by so many, this tale of passion and obsession has captivated and engrossed audiences for nearly 175 years. Wuthering Heights has spawned numerous film, television and theatrical adaptations, with mixed results. Step up director Bryony Shanahan and writer Andrew Sheridan, to give their take on this timeless tale.
With the windy moors as backdrop, we find the spirited, Cathy (Rakhee Sharma) and her brother; Hindley (Gujeet Singh) at play, the harsh, landscape is their playground. However, when their father (David Crellin) returns from a business trip, he has with him Heathcliff (Alex Austin), a street urchin who has been beaten and abused.
Heathcliff’s introduction to the family unit stirs up very different emotions in the siblings, for Hindley, jealousy and rejection as the new arrival has displaced him in his father’s affection. Whilst Cathy has found a fellow kindred spirit, someone, who like her, is at one with her brutal surroundings. The pair soon forge an intense bond, filled with passion and rage that will eventually spiral out of control and affect all around them
This is a bold, daring adaptation, that doesn’t always hit the mark. Sheridan’s script does not pull any punches, there is some dialogue in the script that is more akin to an episode of Peaky Blinders, than a period drama, this however is not the problem, the tone of the production is somewhat all over the place trying to blend high-drama and comedic elements and it doesn’t quite work. References to Star Wars, and Cathy Come Home, are out of place and do nothing but take you away from the drama.
Where Sheridan’s script does succeed is in its examination of trauma, and the impact it can have on mental health. In addition, the development of Hindley adds an extra dimension.
Key to any production of Wuthering Heights is the relationship between, Heathcliff and Cathy, and whilst Austin and Sharma give strong individual performances: Austin is a cross between John Lydon at his most obnoxious and a feral cat, it’s a unique, refreshing take on one of literatures best loved anti-heroes. Whilst Sharma is feisty as the free-spirited Cathy, who’s decent into madness is believably brought to life. The main issue is the passion and toxicity of their relationship does not grip you nor captivate, as it needs too.
The production team have done a fantastic job of bringing the rugged, unforgiving landscape to life during the first half of the play: the Yorkshire backdrop is an integral character brought to life by Cécile Trémolières set design and Zoe Spurr’s atmospheric lighting design. In addition, this mixed with Alexandra Faye Braithwaite’s folk/metal score and haunting sound design, give the production an extra layer and a supernatural feel.
Whilst the Brontë purists may need convincing of the alterations, you cannot help but admire the risks that have been taken, it is not perfect and it does have its faults but it is always better to try something new, than play it safe, and make no mistake this adaptation is far from safe!
Wuthering Heights is at the Royal Exchange until the 7th March tickets available here.