OTR - Reviews of Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights

Mon 13th – Sat 18th August 2012

reviews

Thomas Stell

at 02:36 on 14th Aug 2012

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A good adaptation of a novel reminds one of it and pays tribute to it; a great adaptation may be a work of art in its own right. There is, thirdly, a kind of bad adaptation the experience of which is like skimming through the novel on which it has been based. Into this last category I put Act One Theatre Company’s Wuthering Heights, which goes through the work like a video in fast forward, and has all the emotive effect of a Sparknotes synopsis.

I shall waste no time paraphrasing the story – plot summaries for the book can be found readily enough and these are naturally applicable to the play. Rather too easily applicable in fact as Josey O’Neal’s script does not deviate from the novel even in terms of the chronology, complicated by narratives within narratives that are fine in writing but not necessarily a good idea in performance. Nor is any episode from the book omitted – the whole of the Brontë is here, but each sequence has been shrunk till it has lost all the power it originally had. Cathy, Frances, Edgar Linton and Linton Heathcliff seem to compete over who can get through their death scene fastest, and there is no expression of feeling that doesn’t seem perfunctory.

Nothing brilliant could ever have come of this script, so the actors are not entirely to blame for this production’s weakness, but all the performances could have been a lot better. Lockwood is correctly pompous and effeminate, but the actor playing him misses his most important quality – that he is incapable of understanding the enormous passions of the characters he is told about. Heathcliff is not an easy part and in all the film and television adaptations I know, the only actors that give very remarkable performances in the role are Lawrence Olivier and Ralph Fiennes; Olivier because he is Olivier and Ralph Fiennes because he is Ralph Fiennes. Our Heathcliff tonight didn’t convey a demonic enough power of love and hate or a violent enough sadism, though to be fair on the man even Fiennes would have had difficulty with a script like this. A small girl with an undramatic face has been mistakenly cast as Cathy.

What would otherwise have been a dull evening was at least enlivened by a few comedic moments. Characters became pregnant at a quite alarming rate, and with what looked like balloons though were more likely pillows, Hindley Earnshaw showed his drunkenness by sitting forlornly with a bottle of whisky when not on stage and a number of people who couldn't sing gave the Lyke-Wake Dirge a jolly good shot.

One wonders how a student company could have done Wuthering Heights well – the story itself is very long and so needs longer than is practical for this festival, and few of the characters are easy to play. Make no mistake, the novel is bloody good and I’m glad this company liked it enough to work on it, but unless a whole cast and the adapter and director are up to a huge version that follows the thing exactly, it’s probably better to create something inspired by it or loosely based on it instead.

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Lucinda Higgie

at 12:14 on 14th Aug 2012

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Act One Theatre Company's production of Wuthering Heights is made remarkable by the extent to which the cast work well as an ensemble. Cramming several hundred pages of plot into just over an hour could have been cartoonish, but the company's obvious rapport with one another results in a slick, if not entirely successful production.

Another strength that derives from good collaboration is the music: songs usually emerge as simple solos before the rest of the cast springs up in melancholy harmony, or segues into a soundscape of the wind on the heath. Partly because of this, the entire cast are almost continually onstage, and this directorial decision adds interest. This is increased through the doubling of cast members in a variety of roles of different ages and types and the juxtaposition of Lockwood's position of surveillance with that of the actors. I was less sure about the representation of babies with dolls and tiny puppetry. Georgia Bradley and Greg James Davies both delivered admirable and energetic performances as Cathy and Heathcliff, but my favourite performances of the night were delivered by the impeccably cast Lottie Davies in the potentially thankless role of Nelly Dean and Tom Greene's brooding performance as Hindley Earnshaw.

The major flaw of this production is the difficulty the density of plot poses. A disproportionate amount of script was garbled too quickly, and the sudden deaths of characters after a bit of coughing risked pathos. I hope that further on in the run these defects will be smoothed out as the show has the potential to to reach great heights.

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