Wuthering Heights at The Lowry

I didn’t know what to do expect from this production.

I mean I was aware of the story – it’s all love and hate and death and windy moors. But the description of this production told me it was…

Shot through with music, dance, passion and hope…

and I was admittedly reticent. This could be very good, this could be very bad. What did this mean, what level of interpretive dance could this be, will passion and hope serve us well and translate into an entertaining evening out at the theatre?

I was still pondering these questions as I arrived at the Lowry and settled into my seat. It had been a long day, this was a relatively long production (160 mins total plus interval) and I was fighting an internal voice telling me that under no circumstances should I reference Kate Bush or any Alan Partridge scenes in my coverage (and with that, I guess I win, internal voice).

To sum up…

Rescued from the Liverpool docks as a child, Heathcliff is adopted by the Earnshaws and taken to live at Wuthering Heights. He finds a kindred spirit in Catherine Earnshaw and a fierce love ignites. When forced apart, a brutal chain of events is unleashed.

The production brought by Wise Children theatre company had me at the first scene. It’s funny and it’s charismatic and it’s powerful. It’s a whole lot of things. The funny offsets the death, a whole lot of death to be honest and I feed off the macabre, but that’s on Emily Brontë.

The Yorkshire moors was/were the narrator. The dancing, singing narrator passionately led by Nandi Bhebhe. Stay with me, it really worked.

There was puppetry, a feature of a few productions I’ve seen, most recently The House with Chicken Legs, song, dance and a smart and efficient use of props, most notably the good old fashioned door which served as an entry (I know, shocking) and introduction to many a compelling scenario requiring little else other than perhaps a chair or two and a cast of incredibly talented performers, many taking on multiple roles.

Lucy McCormick as Cathy was quite simply spellbinding. Even when (spoiler) dead and a silent, spooky presence on stage, bearing tortured witness to life continuing to play out in the wake of her passing, you couldn’t take your eyes off her.

I found myself wishing that young Cathy had grown up much earlier in the depiction, such was Stephanie Hockley’s performance. As bouncy, childlike, energetic, devastating and heart-tugging as McCormick’s Cathy senior; a delight.

There were strong, steely and uncomfortably dark performances (and I only mean this positively) from Liam Tamne (Heathcliff) and Tama Phethean (Hindley Earnshaw/Hareton Earnshaw).

Offsetting all the dark and the death and the downright depressing was the comedy.

Craig Johnson in his guise as Dr Kenneth had my attention with his wonderfully biting and camp asides and bridging monologue, provided a much needed side of mirth to the bodies racking up.

Sam Archer gave a typically brilliant performance as Lockwood (and Edgar Linton) with perfect comic timing both verbally and physically.

However left, centre and right stage (all over the show in fact – I wish I had that energy) was Katy Owen (Isabella Linton/Linton Heathcliff). I have never wanted a (spoiler) character to hurry up and die as much as one Linton Heathcliff. Serving Frank Spencer realness, that snivelling, whining wretch bedecked in green ribbons about his neck and shoes (I need closure don’t I) was delivered on point and we hated him, oh how we hated him. And also laughed.

And bravo to those musicians, those talented musicians in the back right corner of the stage, those unsung heroes bringing everything to life with their celtic, folky strokes and strains (composed by Ian Ross). I see and hear you Sid Goldsmith, Nadine Lee and Renell Shaw.

And so Emma Rice as writer, director and all-round hero has gifted us this production, not least rousing me from my Wednesday night slump to boot.

That’s a huge compliment (I need to work on my praise, I know).

It was Wuthering Heights but not as we know it. But also as we know it. Just when we thought it was descending into full spoof, it smacked us round the chops with a dose of revenge and redemption as Ms Brontë intended.

But don’t take my humble word for it. You have until Saturday 7 May to see for yourselves. Visit the Lowry for tickets and details by clicking here without delay.

Photo credits: Steve Tanner

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