Theatre Review: Wuthering Heights at The Rondo Theatre, Bath
This review was first written for The Public Reviews
More than 150 years after it was first published, Wuthering Heights needs very little introduction. The only novel written by Emily Brontë, it tells of the destructive passion of Cathy and Heathcliff, brought up together in the Earnshaw household but driven apart by divisions of class and status and the elemental forces of life and death.
This adaptation from Butterfly Psyche and Livewire Theatre strips the action back to just two actors; Alison Campbell and Jeremy Fowlds not only take the parts of Cathy and Heathcliff but play all the other characters as well. The play opens as Mr Lockwood, a tenant of Heathcliff’s at Thrushcross Grange, visits his landlord at his remote moorland farmhouse, Wuthering Heights. Compelled by bad weather to stay the night, he finds himself haunted by a nightmare of Cathy’s ghost at the bedroom window.
Back at the Grange, his housekeeper Nelly Dean tells him the story of Heathcliff and Cathy’s doomed and vengeful love and its wider repercussions for the next generation. Dougie Blaxland’s adaptation pares back some of Emily Brontë’s minor characters while still keeping the full sense of her complex plotlines – embracing the comedy of the squabbling Linton children as well as Heathcliff and Cathy’s greater tragedy.
Under Ian McGlynn’s direction, in the intimate setting of The Rondo, the two-handed approach works well, with generally clear transitions between characters and scenes linked by Lockwood and Nelly’s narration. When one of the actors plays two characters at once, the conversation is portrayed by their leaping back and forth between two sides of the stage; Fowlds faces greater demands in the number of rapid switches he has to make and just once or twice the roles of Heathcliff and Cathy’s brother Hindley become blurred.
Lighting and sound are understated, although particularly appropriate is Donna Summer’s I Feel Love playing before the beginning of the production. The set is minimal and Campbell’s simple full-length Victorian dress and Fowlds’ white shirt and dark coat serve to represent all their incarnations. Although it is not possible to mine the depths of each character in this way – showing the full extent of Cathy’s tempestuous wilfulness for example or Heathcliff’s brooding malevolence – what we do get by a change of voice and mannerisms is a good representation of each and a pacey unfolding of the story.
This appealing adaptation of Wuthering Heights is part of Butterfly Psyche and Livewire Theatre’s acclaimed Brontë season which includes a one-woman Jane Eyre (also starring Alison Campbell) and another two-hander in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. In today’s often risk-averse arts climate, it’s refreshing to see this collaboration unafraid to take on such an ambitious programme and tackle it so effectively.