DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Wuthering Heights – East Riding Theatre, Beverley

Writer/Director: Jane Thornton

From the novel by: Emily Brontë

Designer: Lucy Weller

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

How do you condense a novel of over 250 pages, with a dense and complicated story-line, into less than 100 minutes of stage time? In the case of Wuthering Heights, with its generational split halfway through, a common method, used in the famous 1939 film, is to omit totally the younger characters – Catherine Linton, Hareton Earnshaw and Linton Heathcliff – and focus on the relationship between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff.

Jane Thornton’s approach for the John Godber Company in Wakefield and Beverley is bolder – and by and large, it works. The major excision is of the character of Mr. Lockwood and, thus, of the to-and-fro time-scale caused by Ellen Dean’s narrative. Otherwise, it runs the full gamut of Emily Brontë’s novel, from Mr. Earnshaw bringing Heathcliff from Liverpool to live at Wuthering Heights to the famous last words of the novel, also of the play, “I wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumber for the sleepers in that quiet earth.”

This is possible only by using the actors as narrators and sections of the story are told either in Brontë’s words or in Thornton’s condensed summary. The five members of the cast, interestingly, are listed without named parts, as though Thornton wishes them to be seen as an ensemble. It proves to be a talented and disciplined ensemble, all recent graduates of Northern drama schools, convincing in movement as well as the spoken word, on stage throughout to supply additional voices and foley effects or move furniture. 

This makes for a brisk atmospheric treatment but is not an entirely unmixed blessing. At times the acted scenes seem little more than snapshots, though Thornton merges narration and action-with-characters smoothly and cleverly. Not until we get to the return of Heathcliff do we have seriously developed scenes – and very passionate they are, too.  Also some of the foley effects – the whistling wind, for instance, or the long-distance slap – overstay their welcome.

The excellent cast of five registers strongly as characters as well as ensemble/narrators. Lamin Touray is at first a rather stolid Heathcliff, but much more intense and powerful on his return, physically convincing and with a manic glint in his eye in the disturbing final scenes. Lauren Sturgess skilfully distinguishes between the two Catherines, wilful both, but Earnshaw the wilder and Linton the more aware of her social status.

Duncan Rhodes is not distracted by his brief turn as Joseph, he of the gnarled Yorkshire speech, from his nice line in effete Lintons. Sorcha McCaffrey offers the female equivalents but adds a prying plain woman’s Nellie Dean to her spoilt brides. Alex Bailey’s speciality is rough-and-ready Earnshaws, but he brings out the essential goodness of Hareton (the nicest character in the book?) and excels as a large dog.

The set is no more than a few clumps of branches hanging above the stage, and movable props – chairs, boxes – do all the work, notably a metal frame such as could be found in an old-fashioned changing room which fills a variety of roles, most often a window – very economical, as is the production.

Runs until 18 November 2017 | Image: Martha Godber Photography

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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