Wuthering Heights*** (Battersea Arts Centre, 22 October 2013)

Posted: October 23, 2013 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Emily Bronte’s classic novel has received many film and television adaptations, inspired a Kate Bush hit song and even a Cliff Richard stage musical, but no interpretation comes to mind that is quite as unorthodox as this 60 minute performance piece, first seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. With the audience seated on all four sides of the performance area, four men, all bearded and bare-footed, play the characters male and female, the horses, the wind and anything else that needs portraying. They are the creator, Peter McMaster and his collaborators Nicholas Anderson, Thom Scullion and Murray Wason. They use words, movement and music (Kate Bush recordings and traditional folk songs which they sing themselves). This is not a cohesive telling of Bronte’s story, rather it is a collection of sequences drawing inspiration from her characters, settings and themes. The unifying concept is an exploration of masculinity, in which the four men delve into their inner feelings as their characters face various challenges. At times, there is a sense of improvisation, giving rise to uncertainty as to whether the performers are speaking as their characters or as themselves, drawing from their personal experiences and emotions. It is this uncertainty that makes the piece so riveting. In contrast to any perceived improvisation, the movement is balletic and perfectly choreographed. Moments of intensity are followed by moments of levity, we are always expecting the unexpected, always on edge and filled with curiosity. The bleak and harsh landscape of the Yorkshire Moors overhangs every scene. We hear of love and loss, freedom and attachment, wanderlust and belonging to a place. At times our senses are assaulted visually and aurally – decibels rise as a mother harangues her son in a brutal interrogation, all four men have simultaneous coughing fits, the horses neigh loudly as they run across the open moorland. This is an unconventional and at times exciting piece of theatre. The narrative thread and character detail of Bronte’s novel have been jettisoned, but their loss is made up for by the sincerity and energy of the performers who give their all.

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