Brickhouse Theatre Company tackle a difficult task: remoulding Emily Bronte’s passionate, intricate and dark Wuthering Heights into a new musical, written and composed by Michael Bascom. Cathy and Heathcliff are star-crossed lovers, soul-mates whose relationship faces trial and tragedy at every turn until a romantic ending is finally realised.
This is a well-crafted show performed with commitment and vigour
In this production the story is very much condensed and stripped back, mirrored in the bare stage – a piano features centre-back with three small black tables manipulated to suggest scenery and objects – and the uncanny all-white costumes. This effectively accompanies Oscar George Copper’s fast-paced, no-nonsense direction: scene changes are immediate, demanding attention from the audience from start to finish. For example, in response to Cathys "let him in", a sudden lighting shift is simultaneous with Heathcliff sharply turning to face her, suggesting his entrance into the room seamlessly. Elements of stylisation including this and the colligated use of a sheet as a swaddled baby and then a bed sheet, is a successful way to manoeuvre around the density and high levels of description and scene-changes innate in a novel.
The cast are superb at executing Bascom and Copper’s vision, bringing energy to every line and entrance. Overall the acting was competent, particularly towards the end of the piece in the duologues between Cathy and Heathcliff. However, the passion and ardour in these moments between the two felt marginally sudden and without prior development – this is not decidedly the fault of the actors but of how compressed the story has to be in a 1hr10 show. Despite the energy this retelling brought, my overarching criticism is that the speed distances the audience from character investment, thereby draining the story from the raw emotion and strength which grips the reader in Bronte’s original.
However, no criticism can be given for Bascom’s composition. The classical quality, with hints of folk, is perfect for such a haunting but beautiful story. The five-person cast blend their voices effortlessly, producing an ethereal quality when they sing together a cappella. Emma Torrens’ soaring soprano voice is standout. Subtle motifs in the piano immediately notion the sublime Yorkshire moors in which this story take place.
While I am not convinced that the musical fully captures the same intensity and enchanting power of Bronte’s writing, this is a well-crafted show performed with commitment and vigour. The voices is where it most excels and, while it most appeals to literary enthusiasts, it should not be overlooked by a wider audience.