Review: Wuthering Heights. Royal and Derngate Northampton.

Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights story has been entertaining audiences since its initial release in 1847, however this version brings its own charms in a way that is very unique. While the characters are difficult to relate to and often dislikeable, the cast manage to have us invested in the story of this very complex family.

(c) Alex Brenner

Wuthering Heights follows the story of a broken family from the 1770s and decades beyond. The problems start when Earnshaw brings back a slave boy he rescued that he calls Heathcliff. This causes trouble for the existing children Hindley and Catherine, as the three often fight. As they grow up more problems arise; Hindley inflicts his son with the same abuse his father showed him, Catherine marries their rich neighbour Edgar over Heathcliff – the poor man that she loves- and in anger, Heathcliff succeeds in becoming rich but is overtaken by his corruption of power. The narrative continues as the family become caught up in series in a series of deaths and betrayal that lead to a breakdown of the dynamics they once knew. The play touches on themes of racism, abuse and death in a mature way that doesn’t glorify it. It’s brave in the sense that it takes very strong themes and instead of making light hearted joke, it owns being a dark play. There are a few references the modern audience can appreciate, but they’re well inserted into the play and don’t feel forced.

(c) Alex Brenner

It’s interesting to see the show told from their maid Nelly’s perspective. She is heavily mistreated, often forgotten by the family, so she is often giving an outsider perspective. Guilia Innocenti plays this role incredibly well and despite being less involved in the drama she manages to keep an effortless main character energy and put herself in the forefront of these stories. Her facial expressions and voice acting are incredible and invoke emotion from every scene.

(c) Alex Brenner

There are no weak links, every actor does an exceptional job and has their time to shine. Whether it be Hindley (John Askew) having violent outbursts, Catherine (Lua Bairstow) breaking down, Heathcliff (Ike Bennett) releasing his unbridled anger, or Linton (Leander Deeny) fearfully crying. Nicole Sawyerr must also be commended for taking on a number of very different characters. With Isabella alone, she goes from a friendly bubbly girl-next-door to a broken woman torn by her husband’s abuse. It works so well as she is not willing to hold back on her acting skills, giving us an emotional performance.

(c) Alex Brenner

What makes this show truly commendable and exceptional is the designer’s bold choice to use lighting and set to their full advantage. In many other shows, lighting is often a forgotten art or rather done to a minimum standard, but in this play there is careful consideration gone into all the lighting, whether it be strobe, dim, or having the characters swinging the lights back and forth. Each sequence is perfected to each scene, which grips the audience and are more engrossed in the scene. I cannot take my eyes from off the stage. Lighting designer Ben Ormerod has done a great job. The set is also beautifully done, it shows the house as homely but also very grim.

(c) Alex Brenner

The fight director Rachid Sabitri and intimacy coordinators Rose Ryan and Veniece Forde add in something extra to the performance. They create tension between the characters; the best being Heathcliff and Hindley’s fight using the vegetables as a representation of the violence, and Heathcliff and Catherine’s moment where they nearly kiss, and it becomes clear that they are in denial of love for each other.

(c) Alex Brenner

Overall, I would say that this play is above many others as it stands true to itself. Any modern references have good comedic timing, and they don’t try to soften the story. It’s easy enough to keep up and stay engrossed in the characters. There’s great attention to detail on lighting, set costumes and the casting is also very well done, each actor embodies their role. They do an exquisite job considering majority of the characters are very unlikable and have the audience shivering with emotion.

Wuthering Heights runs at The Royal and Derngate Northampton until Saturday 6th May

It is created by Inspector Sands, conceived by Ben Lewis and Lucinka Eisler and written by Ben Lewis. The play is directed by Lucinka Eisler.


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