Emma Rice dips into her usual bag of theatrical tricks for a highly expressive take on Wuthering Heights but possibly to diminishing returns
“Let the chaos take you”
First seen late last year, Wuthering Heights arrives at the National Theatre as a co-production with Wise Children, Bristol Old Vic and York Theatre Royal. But though Emma Rice’s adaptation of Emily Brontë’s famous novel is full of the expressive theatricality on which she has built her reputation, it is hard to shake the feeling that it just doesn’t work as well here.
So there’s broad humour aplenty (the screaming wind is inspired) and irreverent musical interventions (Cathy goes full-on miked up rock chick at one point). But there are elements that feel tired – a huge screen used for nothing but skyscapes, meaningless runs out into the audience, books as birds, puppet kids, it just feels like a lack of fresh inspiration.
Matters aren’t helped by an episodic approach to the text which ends up muting its emotional impact throughout. Using the framing device of Mr Lockwood being told the story of Heathcliff and Catherine is technically useful, not least in the explanation of the closely twisting branches of their family trees, but it does result in a punishingly long first act and a second which jars in its abrupt shifts in emotional tone.
There’s no questioning the commitment of the cast and band though, particularly Nandi Bhebhe as the embodiment of The Moor whose unflagging energy levels are a real saving grace. Ash Hunter’s cool fury as Heathcliff is certainly striking and if Lucy McCormick’s Catherine is occasionally a little too overwrought, her manic presence is likewise distinctive. Katy Owen’s comic turns are great value for money and Tama Phethean broods well as Hareton.
Altogether though, the production just doesn’t quite feel up to far, a collection of previous ideas that haven’t been workshopped enough to make a cohesive whole that works to truly elevate the material.