Music: Claude-Michel Schonberg
Director and Choreographer: David Nixon OBE
Reviewer: Maggie Constable
Wild passions abound across the windswept moors this week, well on the stage at least, as Milton Keynes theatre hosts Northern Ballet’s award-winning production of Wuthering Heights. This timeless classic tells of two children, Heathcliff and Cathy, who are inseparable as youngsters but whose feelings in later life turn into a dangerous and obsessive love with very destructive consequences. This all-consuming piece is based upon the much-loved gothic novel by Emily Bronte, and in the 70s the story was made even more famous by the Kate Bush song. It has been ‘re-imagined for a modern audience’ after over a decade since the first production. Suitably romantic music which is so in tune, pardon the pun, with the story has been composed by Claude-Michel Schönberg. It has a filmic quality that lets the audience know who is coming and what is about to happen. The live Sinfonia orchestra plays said music wonderfully under the auspices of Geoffrey Allan. The incredible and so apposite choreography is once again from the creative genius that is David Nixon OBE, who is also the director.
The production is fairly faithful to the novel and begins by showing us Cathy and her brother Hindley happily at play until their father brings the young Heathcliff, a feral orphan, to Wuthering Heights, a desolate farm where he is adopted by the family. Almost at once he is drawn to Cathy and she to him but Hindley does not take to Heathcliff and feels jealous and excluded. The tone is set….. Years later Cathy and Hindley’s father dies and the latter becomes master of Wuthering Heights. The cruel and drunkard Hindley takes his revenge upon Heathcliff, delighting in his humiliation. Then there is the Linton clan at Thrushcross Grange who inhabit another world and class much in contrast to Wuthering Heights. Cathy is attracted by the more genteel Linton household and agrees to marry Edgar but it is not really a love match, more a means of social climbing for her. Heathcliff is both devastated and rejected and after some disputes leaves. He is gone for some while and returns a wealthier man with more status and more aggression, hoping to reclaim Cathy. However, he is determined to get his just revenge, as he sees it.
Jeremy Curnier and Rachael Gillespie as the young Heathcliff and Cathy respectively are simply a joy to behold and truly give the impression of carefree young friends who are very close. Gillespie is positively radiant and their dancing light and full of energy. The moments when they act as the memories of the older pair make a superb contrast and bring alive the deep passions even more. An excellent pairing.
What can one say about Martha Leebolt that has not already been said?! Rhetorical but suffice to say she is a consummate actress as well as a sensitive and fantastically skillful dancer. She is utterly convincing in the rôle of Cathy and her expressions, face and body, bring tears to the eyes at times. Heathcliff is taken on by Tobias Batley, who at first seems a little understated but he develops the rôle of the tormented hero so well that by the end of the piece one can feel as tortured as him! Batley’s use of facial expressions and of his powerful torso is daunting, his movement dynamic and his ability to lift his partner outstanding. Their pas de deux are beautiful, especially the last, but there is something quite special about his dance with his younger self. Giuliano Contadini as the vicious Hindley does a superb job and is very believable. Isabella Linton, brought to us with real character by Hannah Bateman, displays some dainty dancing aptly choreographed to convey the ingénue. Hironao Takahashi, performing Edgar Linton, dances with style and verve although his acting of the part is a tad low-key. Special mention must go to the three little maids (not from school!) who do some great character acting that adds a nice touch of humour to the woeful tale.
Ali Allen and David Grill’s set design and lighting work really well in tandem and also in sync with the dancing/music that the whole is so complete. They have definitely chosen the ‘less is more’ idea and it is very effective.
Altogether a poignant and moving evening of dance that is totally compelling.
Runs until: Sat 2nd May 15