Review: Wuthering Heights
The world-renowned Emily Brontë novel, Wuthering Heights, has reached its 175th birthday. In celebration, Emma Rice (Romantics Anonymous, Wise Children, Brief Encounter) has reimagined the story for the stage. Does the novel still capture the hearts of its audiences after so long? Well, it’s a classic for a reason.
If you’ve never read Wuthering Heights, don’t worry about it – I haven’t either. Although there are a lot of characters, and it can be quite confusing at times and difficult to keep up with names, I had no issues following the narrative. At points, the actors even mocked how similar the names of characters were, so don’t worry if you know nothing about the Brontë novel beforehand (or the Kate Bush song).
Briefly, the plot revolves around love, revenge and redemption in the Yorkshire moors. Heathcliff is an orphan found at Liverpool docks and is kindly taken in by the Earnshaws. Despite his hardships, Heathcliff finds love in his foster-sister, Catherine, and they are torn apart by the conflict of following your heart versus social status. After all, it is the 1800s! Heathcliff goes through hell as he goes from tragedy to tragedy, and life isn’t much easier for Catherine either. Will the lovers ever be reunited?
This production had a stellar cast, with West End star Liam Tamne (The Prince go Egypt, Eurovision: You Decide, The Voice) as the brooding, revenge-driven Heathcliff and the incredible Lucy McCormick as Catherine. Both of these actors were perfectly cast, and the chemistry between them was palpable. Lucy McCormick, in particular, was a standout performer as she carried most of the show with her internal conflict as Catherine. Crazed with love and regret, every note she sang, every scream she echoed on stage was intoxicatingly painful, emotional to her core.
For Wuthering Heights to work, you have to believe in the conflict within Catherine to understand the pain that Heathcliff feels, and it worked so well in this adaptation. You have to understand why Heathcliff is infatuated with her and why Catherine becomes deranged by the life she has been driven to, at the expense of her true integrity and feelings. McCormick was incredible, and I’m amazed that she can carry that much emotion into every performance.
Liam Tamne’s version of Heathcliff had a broadly Indian accent, and it was quite perplexing at first. The accent was executed well, and Tamne himself identifies as African Indian. However, I now understand that it is widely debated as to whether Heathcliff was a Romani slave, as Liverpool was known as a world centre for the slave trade. By recognising this nuance, it adds depth to how Heathcliff was treated by his foster brother and how is reduced to being a servant. I thought that Tamne was fantastic, and I couldn’t imagine a better actor to portray such a complex character.
Another standout performer was definitely Katy Owen as Isabella Linton/Little Linton. Owen definitely drew the most laughs out of the audience, which was much-needed relief amongst the heaviness of the plot. Isabella’s naive infatuation with Heathcliff to the demise of her unhappy marriage was quite the transformation to see, and Little Linton’s mannerisms resembled his mother incredibly well. The intense facial expressions, nasally voices and exaggerated costuming made Katy Owen one of the most memorable and enjoyable performances of them all.
The sets themselves were quite simple, yet extremely effective at telling the story. Although there were fairly minimal props, there was a screen that was used as a backdrop, which created the mood for each scene, alongside a warm yellow light that came down. There were songs within this play, and most of them were quite folk-inspired, except at Catherine’s breaking point, where McCormick performed a rock piece where she had truly lost her mind. The folkish nature of the Yorkshire moors was a stark contrast to Catherine’s demise, and I thought that the storytelling through the songs was effective at enhancing the emotional drive within the powerful play.
Overall, I loved this performance. I thought that the cast was incredible, and they managed to maintain Wuthering Heights‘ relevancy and enticement. Although the performance was long (almost three hours!), I enjoyed every minute, and I would definitely recommend the tragedy romance, whether you’ve read the novel or not. Love, death, generational trauma and ghosts…what’s not to like?
Wuthering Heights plays at the Lowry (Lyric Theatre) from 3rd until 7th May, before continuing its UK tour until the end of May – though Wise Children’s website says that more dates are to be announced soon, so stay tuned!