Stars explained: * A production of no real merit
with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not
enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real
life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A
good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely
achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a
great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major
flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic
which lifts theatre to another plane.
Flora Deeley as Cathy, Jane Williams as Catherine, Ray Curran as Heathcliff and Tony Stamp as Hindley Earnshaw. Pictures: Nigel Espley
Dudley Little Theatre
EMILY Brontë's only novel is not an easy tale to read or indeed watch.
We have a revenge-riddled master of the house who has taken over from the debt-ridden, alcoholic owner, a mother and her daughter who seem to have only a passing acquaintance with sanity, along with servants who failed their GCSE's at charm school.
Then there is an adulterous affair which continues, spiritually, even after the lady concerned is dead and left haunting the place, and to top it all the weather high on the Yorkshire moors is diabolical – if it's not a blizzard then it’s a rainstorm with thunder, lightning and gales. I tell you, it's grim up t'north.
The psychological drama is a complex tale and Charles Vance has managed to keep the essence of the book in his 1990 adaptation but it is still a brave choice for any company to undertake. The main characters are hardly endearing, basic humanity is in short supply and we are jumping around over 20 years.
This timescale is the most difficult for Ray Curran as Heathcliff, at first the young lad, a foundling on the streets of Liverpool brought to Wuthering Heights by the kindly Mr Earnshaw.
He has to go from a young, innocent lad who falls in love with a young Catherine Earnshaw, played by Jane Williams, to the embittered, brooding Heathcliff whose life is set on vengeance on those he sees as having wronged him. Curran with a mix of costume and manner manages the switch well.
His crusade of retribution starts with Catherine's elder brother Hindley, a most unlikable gambler and drunkard and now master of Wuthering Heights, played with suitable gruffness by Tony Stamp. He is losing his house and fortune to Heathcliff, brick by brick, in nightly games of cards.
Target number two is the master of nearby Thrushcross Grange, Edgar Linton, played with dandyish charm by Phil Sheffield, who is also responsible for the excellent, period costumes.
Catherine, played with a clever unpredictability by Williams, has enough mood swings to drift into mad as a hatter territory, and is perhaps responsible for the whole shooting match to come when she expresses her love for Heathcliff to servant Nellie Dean but says she will marry Edgar instead because of his wealth and better social standing.
Sadly Heathcliff hears her and vanishes off over the moors not to be seen again until years later when he returns as a self-made, rough around the edges, gentleman, still with the hots for Catherine and she still carries a torch for him.
Heathcliff demands Hindley signs over Wuthering Heights to
settle his gambling debts
Heathcliff demands Hindley signs over Wuthering Heights to settle his gambling debts
Even her death in childbirth doesn't cool his ardour and he even marries off her daughter, Cathy, to his son Linton, as a sort of union by proxy. The sickly Linton spoils that game by dying leaving Heathcliff with a remarkably touchy and angry daughter in law, in a wonderful fiery performance by Flora Deeley.
Linton is the result of Heathcliff's marriage to Edgar's younger sister Isabella, played with a demure sensitivity by Gina Lovell, so much so she actually appears to be normal. The marriage is part of Heathcliff's revenge on Edgar and he treats her appallingly, so much so she runs away.
We never meet Linton, but do find Hareton, son of Hindley Earnshaw, living at Wuthering Heights. Ellis Daker, gives a Hareton who, like Isabella, appears normal, so looks out of place among North Yorkshire's collection of misfits.
He obviously fancies Cathy, but she hates the world, moon and rest of the universe. Although in theory he is heir to the Earnshaw estate, his father has gambled it away and he finds himself treated as a servant . . . as Hindley had once treated Heathcliff.
The play is told in scenes narrated first by Mr Lockwood, a new tenant of Thrushcross and then by Ellen Dean, Nelly, housekeeper of Thrushcross were she moved from Wuthering. She has known both families, Linton and Earnshaw, most of her life.
It brings two very measured and confident performances from Jane Fisher and reliable Dudley regular John Lucock who hold all the scenes and the narrative together, which is no easy task with such a complex tale – the novel runs to around 110,000 words – all condensed to two and a half hours on stage.
It is a tale of abuse, anger, cruelty and a tortuous love affair. But all that changes when Heathcliff shuffles off his mortal coil. The servant, Joseph, played by Andrew Parkes, becomes not only civil, but friendly, Cathy and Hareton have not only stopped fighting, but appear to be courting, and the sun might even be shining outside, so, despite all the angst of the evening, all's well, as they say, that ends well.
It is not the easiest tale to follow and director Frank Martino and his cast do well to keep the tale on track helped by a clever set, splitting the stage in two to represent the two houses, as well as a regular feature at Dudley, using the front of stage left, in this case creating a small sitting room where Nelly could relate her tale to Mr Lockwood. The result is a commendable effort to bring a difficult play to the stage. To 11-03-17