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Wuthering Heights by Wise Children: A Violent, Heartbreaking and Spectacular Journey through Brontë’s Novel

Written by Marie-Sylvette Boré

A cruel, heartbreaking and the most dehumanising story you’ll ever read… that was the leading critic of Emily Brontë’s novel when she published it in 1848. The Wise Children company is led by Emma Rice- who directed and adapted the story to the play which is certainly complex. In a fantastic mise en scène, the spectator is balanced between fear and joy.

Emma Rice and her troop had shaken the stage on the 10th of November at the play’s premiere. Interpreting and adapting Wuthering Heights on stage seems to be a tricky game but a fun one as we can see during the show. The language, like razor blades; the performance, singing and declamatory; finally, the set will blow your mind.

A fantastic cast of comedians leads the show, both singing and performing in a whirlwind of moments of intense violence and play. Ash Hunter as Heathcliff and Lucy McCormick as Catherine play the eponymous novel with enthusiasm and accuracy, tortured between marital duty and conflicts. The other group members, Michelle Gremaud as Young Catherine Linton and Sam Archer as Edgar Linton, are taking the stage as a playground. They embody their roles with sensitivity and power that is unbounded in the play.

Picture credit: York Theatre Royal

As in ancient Greek plays like Sophocle’s Oedipe, the chorus has an exciting part in Emma Rice’s adaptation. Nandi Bhebhbe, Tama Phetean and Withney White play a narrator, some servants who guide the character into the story. Together, they allow the spectator to get into the play and understand the subject. Indeed, in Emily Brontë’s novel, it is not easy for us to remember all the characters’ names. As Emma Rice said during the Q&A at the end of the show: ‘the names of the novel seems to be all the same one!’. (laugh from the crowd)

I never had the chance to read Emily Brontë’s novel, so I was pretty afraid of misunderstanding the story. Stage direction helps the spectator to understand the progress of the level of Catherine and Heathcliff by the use of chalkboards. Brontë’s novel is a revenge tragedy but Emma Rice does not put Machiavellism in her adaptation, which strikes me. Even with a subject this violent, between rape scenes, fighting, death, the spectator is watching the story’s progress with a kind eye, amused by its humour. Indeed the character of Little Linton is quite grotesque and is brilliantly incarnated by Katy Owen.

Striking from the book as a primary source, the director refreshes this classic British literature novel with a punk-rock experience thanks to the music composed by Ian Ross. Wise Children will mark the history of rewriting the literary myth that has become Wuthering Heights.

Written by Marie-Sylvette Boré