Sunday, 18 August 2019

Brontë adaptation transports you to the wilds of wintry Yorkshire

Brontë adaptation transports you to the wilds of wintry Yorkshire

Wuthering Heights | Wadham College, Oxford | Monday, July 15

THERE’S quite a distance between the warmth of an Oxford college garden on a summer evening and the bleak moors of Yorkshire on a winter’s night.

Yet it’s a gap that is convincingly spanned in this new production of Wuthering Heights, first presented at Castle Howard in North Yorkshire and now playing in the southerly Wadham College Gardens until August 17.

Everyone knows the central story of Wuthering Heights — the passionate, destructive relationship between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, the “strange acquisition” brought into the Earnshaw family by Cathy’s father.

Yet there is much more to the story than this, and it’s to the credit of this new adaptation by April de Angelis that her engrossing version not only covers the Cathy/Heathcliff affair but plenty of the action that occurs after Cathy dies (not a spoiler — her ghost appears very early in the drama).

The play, like the book, is framed as story within a story, with flashbacks that underline how the past is always pressing in on the present.

Mr Lockwood is a rather self-important visitor from London — up in Yorkshire for his health — who is the astonished witness to the goings-on at Wuthering Heights and the Grange, the two principal locations.

In Wuthering Heights, home to the Earnshaws, everything is rough, violent, disorderly — and passionate. At the Grange, home to the Lintons, there is restraint, decorum — and a glass chandelier. “Frost and fire” as one of the characters says.

The fortunes of the two families, Earnshaws and Lintons, are as tangled as the wires in a junction box and one of the achievements of this new version by Lamplighter Drama and the Oxford Shakespeare Company is to keep all the connections clear and humming.

The production depends on eight highly versatile actors who mime, play instruments, sing, dance, fight, and provide a range of sound effects from barking dogs to wailing babies to howling winds.

And of course offer a range of characters from the stolid housekeeper Nelly Dean, who tells the story to Mr Lockwood, to the tempestuous Cathy and the volatile, vengeful Heatchcliff, to the foppish Edgar Linton and his refined sister Isabella.

It’s all done with conviction and energy, and when you come away from this calm college garden you’ll have been entertained and braced by a visit to the Yorkshire moors.

Philip Gooden

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