Wuthering Heights - theatre review

Adaptations are a contentious issue. The writer of an adaptation faces an array of dilemmas: How can he/she tell this story without alienating those who have not read the original? How can he/she tell this story from a new perspective? And (most pertinently), how can one effectively translate written narrative into dramatic (and visible) action? Accomplishing all of this is by no means a small feat. At best, it takes an excruciating amount of thought, time and tenacity. At worst, it is an utter waste of time. For everyone. However, when all of these are considered and well executed, it is a rare and very special find indeed. Wuthering Heights by Butterfly Psyche and Livewire Theatre is certainly one of those treasures, adapted for stage by Dougie Blaxland with a text that draws upon the art and energy of simple storytelling. Blaxland holds true to the original format by choosing to present this story from the perspective of Nelly (a maid to both Catherine's) and Lockwood (a new tenant of Heathcliff's). He asserts the theatricality of this concept by heightening the intensity and commitment with which they tell each other (and at times the audience) their anecdotes, thus resulting in a clear, elegantly structured and fluid narrative.

From the writing, to the minimal casting and set design (or lack thereof); this production brilliantly demonstrates the power of economy. The two actors, Alison Campbell and Jeremy Fowlds, playing Nelly and Lockwood, take on multiple and convincing roles as they tell each other their stories of Wuthering Heights and its residents. The set is practically bare, opening up limitless possibilities and avoiding the restrictions which may come with a naturalistic set. Campbell and Fowld's engagement with the story they are telling is masterful and driven with a great deal of energy. There is a particularly strong scene in which Cathy tells Nelly of her intention to Marry Edgar, as Heathcliff has been demoted to too low a social ranking for her to marry him now, even though she loves him and states that he is more herself than she is.

Campbell plays both characters, switching effortlessly from one to the other with clarity and precision. Throughout the first part of the story (up until Cathy's death), the character interactions are strong. Yet during the second half, whilst acting the various characters of the play embroiled in Heathcliff's revenge and dynasty, I couldn't help but feel a drop in their connection toward one another. Heathcliff is far more passive in this section too with no real sign of his malice, but I can't help but feel that this would have added a welcome catalyst for the actors to work off in the second part of this play.

Jazz Hazelwood's direction is sharp, well-realised and manages to expertly lead the actors through the complexity of their many shifts and character changes with success and vivacity. She navigates a concept, which could have easily slipped into absurdism into an elegant, engaging example of storytelling.

This is a play that will please even the most avid lovers of the book, whilst holding its own as a brilliant production in its own right. A thoroughly enjoyable and captivating piece of theatre that held the audience's attention from start to Finish. I look forward to seeing more from both Butterfly Psyche and Livewire Theatre.

(c) Naia Headland-Vanni

Arnos Vale Cemetary, Bristol
Produced by Butterfly Psyche.
Seen on the 9/10/2014.

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