Writer and director: Rebecca Newman,
Reviewer: Gemma Corden,
The intoxicating power of the romance novel strikes again
Rebecca Newman (known to many as Casualty‘s Nurse Ally) writes, directs and stars in her first play,The Enduring Romance of Cathy and Heathcliff, a charming story about learning how to pick the right man, drawing parallels with Emily Bronte’s classic gothic romance and part of this year’s Birmingham Fest.
“If a man doesn’t love me to the point of self-destruction, he doesn’t love me enough.” It’s 1957 and our heroine, Cathy, is a headstrong librarian with wild ideals about romance. When she meets banker John (Adam Scales) at the number 6 bus stop she is furiously penning a list of all the qualities that her beloved Heathcliff is not, in order to prevent herself from marrying the wrong kind of man. The next hour charts the stop-start relationship between the pair, budding at a local dance that same evening, only to be thwarted four years later when she chooses to marry another man.
There’s a charming homemade feel to the intimate set, and pages torn from books act as makeshift bunting lend a dreamy mood. The glorious 1960’s soundtrack helps to anchor the story in the period – without such cues, the era would be lost on the audience, with only the hint of sex politics to counteract the very modern dialogue employed throughout.
As John tries, in vain, to be Cathy’s Heathcliff it increasingly feels as though his too-hapless character is merely an empty vessel to serve the female lead’s development – delectably feminist, but perhaps a little too unbalanced in a two-character play. But Scales plays the devoted wet blanket with real gusto and the audience love him for it. The pair share an electric chemistry which sadly does not quite salvage what the rattling pace takes away from the emotional stake we have in the relationship.
What stands out in this production is Newman’s knack for dialogue – charged with an acerbic, intelligent wit and impeccable comic timing, there are many laugh out loud moments. Newman and Scales deliver this beautifully on the night, and a clever narrative ploy ensures the story ends on a high. There is real poetry here.
Victorian readers of Wuthering Heights found the book shocking and inappropriate in its depiction of passionate love and cruelty. While the heroine of this play may be cruel at points the story is ultimately saccharine – but with a delicious bite. The audience is ultimately wooed.
Reviewed on 28th July