Wuthering Heights at the National Theatre
The stormy beginning of Wuthering Heights is an apt opening for the tormented and passionate story of the two protagonists. Wise Children theatre company, together with Bristol Old Vic and York Theatre Royal, take Emma Rice’s thunderous version of Emily Brontë’s novel to the National Theatre with energy, delivering a memorable ensemble performance with music and dance.
Mr Earnshaw (Craig Johnson) brings home a foundling from Liverpool docks: Heathcliff (Ash Hunter), who will live together with the Earnshaw’s children, Hindley (Tama Phethean) and Catherine (Lucy McCormick). While his relationship with the former is fraught, the newcomer finds a raw, playful empathy with the girl. As they grow up, Catherine and Heathcliff realise their untameable souls are two halves of the same whole. But they also become aware that class and money hinder their relationship, while pride and vengeful sentiments weave the fabric of their lives, determining a fate that will backfire on their children.
The central characters are undoubtedly the two lovers, but the surrounding cast are an equal force driving the narrative – superbly demonstrated here as an endeavour by the whole company. There are no empty spaces, either on the physical stage or in the flow of the script. The acting is supported and integrated with choreographed movements, at times full dance numbers and an original score that gives the viewer goosebumps. A small orchestra sits upstage, providing live music that harmoniously blends with the lines and the gestures. It’s an enveloping show that fills the eyes and the heart with rhythmic melodies and words.
The wit and poise of the cast are smoothly balanced: Katy Owen’s (Isabella Linton and Linton Heathcliff) fun contrasts with the sturdy Ash Hunter; the ever-present and dynamic Nandi Bhebhe (The Moor) is accompanied by a small ensemble who nicely link together the sequences and fill out the set.
The first act features some whimsical outbursts and at times the pace is slowed down to make room for the intangibility of the contrasted love. More interesting is the second half, where the daughter’s and son’s existences cross.
The costumes and all the props are particularly well curated, among them animals and puppets. The use of multiple storytelling devices is not new to Wise Children; combined with sensational performances, the result is a spirited play.
Wuthering Heights is at the National Theatre from 3rd February until 19th March 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch writer Emma Rice introducing Wise Children’s Wuthering Heights here: