Wuthering Heights – Review – East Riding Theatre
By Karl Hornsey, November 2017
The John Godber Company take to the stage at the East Riding Theatre in Beverley with their production of the Emily Bronte classic Wuthering Heights, using some of the finest young talent in the north of England to bring the Gothic novel to life.
Wuthering Heights was first published 170 years ago, yet its themes, story and characters are still well-known to this day, and the two principal leads of Cathy and Heathcliff part of modern folklore. At the time, the novel polarised opinion, largely due to its dark tones, deeply challenging subject matter, and depiction of mental and physical cruelty, while also questioning the morals of Victorian society.
The decision by Jane Thornton, writer and director of this adaptation, to use young actors proves inspired here, with the physical nature of the play being demanding of its five-strong cast (Alex Bailey, Sorcha McCaffrey, Duncan Riches, Lauren Sturges and Lamin Touray), who are all on stage throughout.
The ERT is also a superb setting, providing an eerie, intimate atmosphere from which it feels the characters cannot escape, and the choice of music throughout worked perfectly, enhancing the contemporary feel to this classic.
While the concept of the sweeping, wild and windy moors is difficult, if not impossible, to recreate on stage rather than in one’s mind, a menacing and brooding feeling was present throughout, and much of the credit for this is down to an outstanding performance by Touray as Heathcliff.
The character of Heathcliff is one of fascination in the literary and film world, as he can be depicted as either a romantic hero or an evil villain, or even both, depending on your opinion. Touray’s portrayal is mesmerising, starting slowly and quietly, but then descending into bitterness, brooding and desperation as the play reaches its climax.
What is even more remarkable is that this is Touray’s first theatre job since graduating from the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts in Wigan and, while all five of the cast are utterly believable in their portrayals of several roles, it is Touray who leaves the lasting impression.
Four of the five cast members have graduated from ALRA North, with Riches graduating from the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, and the use of promising northern talent seems particularly fitting both at this venue and for this novel.
There is a danger at times that the sheer darkness and challenging tones of the novel can be lost when adding elements of humour, and in a sense there isn’t enough time to do the novel complete justice, one would need a six-part mini-series to manage that, but Thornton has produced a play that gets under the skin of Bronte’s remarkable work.
The adaptation finds the right balance, managing to shock its audience, while also finding moments of hope and levity, and the young cast didn’t put a foot wrong. The production runs until 18th November and is another one not to be missed at the ERT.
images: Martha Godber Photography