Theatre Review: Wuthering Heights, until 8 November, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

5 Nov

I’m ashamed to say that my knowledge of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights extends to…well to that video and song by Kate Bush. Shocking isn’t it? One of the great works of English literature and all I know about it centres around a four minute pop video. In an effort to rectify the situation I headed along to Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre, last night where I had the pleasure of sitting down to enjoy a new stage version from Birmingham Rep, thinking it would be dark, gritty and a bit soppy cos, y’know, it’s a love story…

Well the first shock of the night was that far from being overly sombre there was humour within the first five minutes and a sight gag that wouldn’t be out of place on The Mighty Boosh. As laughter rippled through the stalls and a lady behind asked her friend “is this a comedy?”, I did wonder if I’d stumbled upon Carry On Heathcliff or if this adaptation was an accurate one.

Knowing that the book is narrated by two characters, Mr Lockwood and Nelly Dean, it did make sense that the two remain on stage at all times, the latter guiding the former (and the audience) through the troubled past of the characters at the centre of the story.

According to the notes on the play in the programme, most versions end with the death of Cathy, something which has been righted here. By chopping out some scenes in the first half and expanding the second, more of the narrative has been retained, with some of the more intense scenes at last available to the audience.

As Heathcliff, Antony Byrne is certainly older than I imagined him, while Amanda Ryan is as young and pretty as might be expected.  A criticism I would make of the script is that the need to pack more into the two hours means that Heathcliff’s emotions change too fast from lovesick boy to bitter adult, a bit too much shorthand used to move the plot along.

Of the other actors, Toby Dantzic is hilarious as the seemingly Tony Blair-esque Edgar while Susannah York steals the show as Nelly, her seen-it-all air fitting in perfectly with this self-aware production.

With a simple-yet-effective set and a fine supporting cast, this was a good introduction to Wuthering Heights, the humour never overbearing or detracting from the drama at its centre. I’m not sure if I’ll be buying a copy of the novel anytime soon but it’s certainly piqued my interest in the full, unexpurgated version.

Review by Jonathan Melville

Find out more over at the King’s Theatre website.


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