Yorkshire’s most famous story, ‘Wuthering Heights’, is realised in a bold physical theatre style with an authentic cast all from ‘God’s own country’. Bronte’s complex masterpiece – part love story, part Gothic horror, part revenge – told with passion, grit and raw power from the John Godber Theatre Company’s most recently graduated actors.
Opting for a Brechtian expression, Jane Thornton effectively and radically modernised this traditional tale to force the audience to appreciate the work in a new light. Having the set visible as the audience began to fill the theatre implied the honest and open, visceral and blatant impression of Wuthering Heights we were about to watch; warts and all. Furthermore, as well as bringing the text itself into modern theatre, the Brechtian device of having all the actors on stage watching the action intensified the relationships established by Bronte. Heathcliffe, for example, was seen reacting to the way his hateful outburst impacted upon Cathy which dramatically humanised him and created an original interpretation of pathos for the character. I think the minimalist set was perfect to reflect the reality of life for the characters and how their simple, relatable lives are only given prestige when performed on a stage, it heightened the verisimilitude of the play and the people. The overall intent behind this modernisation lies in the morals of Wuthering Heights itself; it alludes to the true desperation of grief and loss and forces its readers to question their selfishness and morality – a lesson still applicable to our lives today.
Undeniably a tale about romance and what it truly means to love someone, Thornton did a wonderful job of condensing such a powerful piece of literature while still retaining the charm and importance of the plot. It is too often that we see boring, uninspiring regurgitations of old tales merely sprinkled with a bit of symbolism and staging. Thornton artfully captured the essence of the story and, working with the abstract theatre style and transitions, it was the effortless simplicity of the plot that engaged the audience into the true emotion of the story. This performance not only respected the historic novel but earned respect in its own right as a wonderfully astounding piece of art.
An artist is only as good as their brush, however, and the passionate, young cast expressed the talent of any older, acclaimed actor. Tackling a challenging interpretation of a dauntingly famous story, the actors moved the audience and astounded me with their emotive performances. Historically a particularly drab stock character, Cathy was brought to life by Lauren Sturgess and expressed dynamically through her powerful use of voice and body language and Lamin Touray stole the audience’s hearts, never mind Cathy’s, with his frighteningly strong interpretation of Heathcliffe.
A poignant and unique piece of theatre, John Godber Theatre Company successfully reinvented this classic and the recently graduated cast have firmly left their stamp on their home-county. I wish them all the gutsy determination of Cathy herself in their endeavours!
Written by Siobhan Wild