Emily Brontë adaptation by young Cardiff players is a praiseworthy production
This article is from 2012.
Rarely has fiction portrayed the negative as well as positive emotions of love than in Emily Brontë’s masterpiece. Heathcliff and Cathy's passionate, never harmonious yearning is, of course, at the heart of the story, yet the novel's complex narrative – we are recounted Heathcliff’s tale via outsider Lockwood, himself informed by chatty housekeeper Nellly Dean – makes it a challenge for the theatre.
The young Cardiff University players wait on stage in character as the audience piles into the intimate venue. Nelly Dean and Lockwood take turns to tell the story, which begins as the book does, with Lockwood spending a haunted night at the Heights. The latter is portrayed brilliantly in all the character’s loquacious, awkward inanity – himself a rather bolder version of the ill-fated Edgar Linton.
With just a wooden frame and curtain portraying at times the haunted window of Cathy’s old and current room, the door of the Heights and the fire-licked windows of Thrushcross Grange, the scenes switch with speed and ease. Cathy is exuberant, measuredly wild (perhaps even more of Cathy’s willfulness could be drawn out), and portrays well her love for the difficult Heathcliff.
The play stays admirably close to the original text, but perhaps the actors would do better to adapt the narrative further, because their time constraints and dedication to the original mean the scene changes are too quick sometimes to allow for proper audience empathy with the situation and the different characters, whose names and relationships are hard to follow at the best of times. This is particularly the case with Edgar Linton (acted with just the right dose of sickly health and good character), whose marriage to Cathy is hard to justify given the time they spend on stage together.
There are moments, though, despite the time constraints, of stirring passion and sorrow in the scenes between Heathcliff and Cathy, heightened by the musical accompaniment by the actors themselves, who generate haunting singing, wind, rain and gale throughout. Impressive characterisation and admirable commitment to the text make this a must-see for fans of the book, though the quick scene swaps and endless narrative might fox those less familiar with the original work.