As a keen English Literature Student and having a vested interest in Victorian Literature, I approached The Student Workshop’s stage adaptation of ‘Wuthering Heights’ with interest and trepidation. I was unsure how well Emily Bronte’s gothic novel would translate to stage – whilst much of the novel’s intensity is created by the wildly passionate interactions between its characters, Bronte’s dense descriptions of the untamed moors the action takes place on could surely not be recreated. My concerns about set-design were justified – the theatre’s space is fairly generous, but set was limited to all but modest furniture. However, the use of lighting and sound was effective, especially the echoing recordings of Catherine’s voice that intermingled with the vicious winds. Perhaps it was unrealistic of me to expect the space to have been totally transformed into wild Yorkshire landscape.
Thankfully, where the performance somewhat failed in its portrayal of physical atmosphere, it completely succeeded in the novels other key theme – the relationships between its characters.
At its core is the fiery, vicious and doomed love between Heathcliff and Catherine, and this production’s respective actors captured these raw emotions totally. Adam Wood portrayed Heathcliff’s passion, aggression and determination for revenge perfectly, whilst Bethan Sullivan depicted Catherine’s decline from a manic, excitable teenager to a hysterical, depressed mother-to-be with aplomb. Beautifully highlighted in Catherine’s death scene, which brought myself and others around me to tears, the two actors navigated the terrific highs and terrifying lows of their relationship wonderfully.
Physical violence is a key part of Heathcliff’s character and special mention must go to the production’s fight co-ordinator Katie Overstall. None of the on-stage violence felt fake or lacking in motive – and there were plenty of motives. Josh Brown was marvellous as the bitter, resentful Hindley Earnshaw and when his character was subjected to a cruel and vicious beating, the fight drew loud gasps from many audience members.
The first Act of the performance ended with Catherine’s death, and Director Chloe Walton ensured the action moved seemlessly into the story of the next generation. Luke Murphey’s interpretation of Edgar Linton, somewhat stilted when first introduced in the first half took well to his role as protective father to his daughter Cathy Linton, played by Jasmine Horn. Jasmine’s strength was her ability to balance Cathy’s inherited characteristics – she showed fleeting passion and rage reminiscient of Bethan’s Catherine, but seemed more motivated by her father’s kind nature.
The importance of genes was also highlighted, though in a less powerful way, by the portrayals of Linton Heathcliff and Isabella Linton by Andrew Millar and Isla Jeffrey respectively. Isla’s Isabella felt somewhat lacking, though her desperation to escape Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff’s cruelty was believable. Andrew’s interpretation of Linton felt accurate; his lack of willing to even attempt to flout his father’s rule to aid Cathy was reasonable, though his accent was slightly odd.
At the heart of the production, as she is in the novel, was Nelly. Robyn Bennet was superb at navigating and guiding all of the character’s relationships and interactions whilst allowing the audience an insight into her own distress.
Overall, the adaptation was a general success, and hopefully any of my qualms raised will have been addressed before today’s matinee performance. I would encourage everyone to visit the new Caryl Churchill Theatre and enjoy this stage adaptation of Emily Bronte’s classic gothic romance.