Saturday 7 December 2019

Theatre Wuthering Heights The Gate Theatre

John McKeown

The love between Emily Bronte's Cathy Earnshaw and the foundling Heathcliff is raw and elemental, but there are gradations to its development and subtle emotional complications when it comes into conflict with the world around them. Anne-Marie Casey's adaptation, necessarily compressed, loses most of the fine tissue connecting the bones of one of English literature's greatest love stories.

Much of it, particularly in the first act, jerks along, made jerkier by Michael Barker-Caven's over-busy production. Within minutes Cathy has returned home outwardly transformed from her recuperation at the Lintons, a surly young Heathcliff has been scrubbed up by Nelly (the excellent Fiona Bell) to impress her, while vowing undying revenge on Cathy's tyrannical brother Hindley and Hindley's wife has gone upstairs pregnant and come down in a coffin. Unless you know the story it all seems rather haphazard.

Wuthering Heights is in a constant spin, and though the ingenuity of Paul O'Mahoney's set design often pays off, sliding rocks, sliding curtains, beds coming out of walls, and some decidedly naff film projections do more to shred the atmosphere than thicken it.

A key element of the novel's brooding menace is Hindley, consumed with hatred for Heathcliff from childhood. A sneery wimpish Ronan Leahy is miscast as the vengeful brute, while Joseph is just an ephemeral servant rather then the cursing Biblical moralizer he should be.

Thankfully Tom Canton is a superb Heathcliff, physically and vocally, his hoarse northern accent hollow and dry when making threats that never fail to materialize, and impassioned when articulating his tormented love for Cathy. Kate Brennan is a constantly compelling Cathy, in possession of an untameable love the well-bred Lintons can't even imagine, but, as a woman, still concerned to better her position.

Brennan embodies perfectly this conflict between her love and her appetite for betterment, spelled out when she tries to justify her intention of marrying Linton. She loves Linton because he's rich and he loves her, but Heathcliff is a different matter. "He's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same."

With Brennan and Canton, the unvarnished simplicity of Cathy and Heathcliff's avowals have a visceral power and truth that make love the most desirable but the most terrible of involvements.

Irish Independent

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