Wuthering Heights: The Oxford Playhouse et al
Review: Wuthering Heights, conceived and developed by Lucinda Eisler and Ben Lewis. A China Plate, Inspector Sands, Royal & Derngate, Northampton, and Oxford Playhouse Co-Production, on tour until June 2023. Book tickets here.
[Disclosure: Our reviewer received free tickets, and free drinks for the purposes of this review.]
Theatre maker Lucinka Eisler, and writer Ben Lewis began to develop this new theatrical adaptation of Wuthering Heights in 2016. It has been a long and rocky road from conception to realisation.
Wuthering Heights, written by Emily Bronte and published in 1847, is a complex novel – knotty, difficult and multi-layered dealing with the dark side of human nature. Adapting it to capture the multitude of themes and the ominous atmosphere in a way that makes sense for stage was always going to be difficult.
This production valiantly endeavours to include all of the themes covered in the novel including love, desire, passion, privilege, suffering, grief, jealousy, freedom, isolation, guilt, revenge, violence, class, displacement, and exclusion. Watching it felt like sitting in front of a multitude of rushed, disconnected thematic vignettes.
In this production, multiple things happen on stage, in multiple different styles, quickly – all of the time. This attempt to do everything – borne of a deep respect for the source material – somehow diminishes the story’s impact.
The production is a mix of time periods and styles - sometimes it’s a traditional retelling, and other times it’s a slapstick comedy – and there are times when it’s everything in between. Trying to include everything, all of the time meant that, in my opinion, the production continually undermined itself.
Ultimately, this fragmentation took away from the wild, ominous bleakness running throughout the original story and meant that the actors weren’t given the space and time on stage to truly inhabit their characters’ present moments. It’s a pity because everyone involved is hugely talented, and dedicated.
This is a good looking production – but as a coherent, and meaningful adaptation of Wuthering Heights, I felt it was largely unsuccessful.
If you enjoyed reading this review, you may like to read my reviews of other stage adaptations of classic texts - here.
All images © Alex Brenner.