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Wuthering Heights, Battersea Arts Centre – Review

Devised by Peter McMaster

Pros: An altruistic exploration of the unlikeable characters of Wuthering Heights.

Cons: A confusing start to the show put me on the defensive from the beginning.

Our Verdict: Performed by four strong male actors, this ‘adaptation’ of Wuthering Heights is a study of the book and its themes rather than a stage adaptation of the story.

Courtesy of the Battersea Arts Centre

The Battersea Arts Centre’s mission “to invent the future of theatre” is no fake claim. Stamped into each and every performance that they allow into their hallowed halls are the obvious signs that they take their 120 years of radical performance history very seriously. And why shouldn’t they celebrate this – seeing as they do it so well.

As one of the many shows celebrating the BAC’s deep-rooted heritage, Wuthering Heights as devised by Peter McMaster is a complex and mind-tingling piece designed to let the audience re-visit this classic text. It humanises the characters, particularly the character of Heathcliff and entwined with this is a modern day element of study; what it is to live as a man in the 21st Century. Brought down from Scotland, the cast consists of four young men taking on the daunting task of portraying one of the most popular and dissenting classic texts in Britain. But don’t go expecting the classic story. Only snippets of the tale are presented on stage and I wonder if you had not read the text whether you would be able to access any of the more dreamlike aspects of the show.

When reading the press release I was interested to discover what could be said about being male in the modern day (and incidentally all the actors and characters except potentially Heathcliff are also white – but that is not explored). I’ll hold my hands up to the fact that I was cynical that the medium of theatre, which is a fantastic and necessary platform for minorities and the “suppressed” to express themselves, was appropriate for this purpose of exploring men. However it was done with such nuance, if you weren’t looking for it you might miss it, and sympathy I was impressed. What particularly stands out was the list of endless questions being emotionally presented to Heathcliff on his return after Catherine married. It began with questions aimed at the character but slowly transformed into questions about the complexity of masculinity. This presented a real insight into being ‘male’ and in a very respectful challenged my own deep-seated preconceptions about what it is like to be a man.

The beginning was a whirlwind of activity. Music set the mood as the actors ‘set the scene’. Unfortunately this music was too loud for the room and I couldn’t hear over half of what the actors were saying for the first five minutes. This wasn’t helped by the fact it wasn’t a dialogue but staccato scripting with stylised movements. I think they were explaining what was going to happen but to be honest with you I’m not 100% sure on that. However the show did improve from then onwards. I particularly enjoyed their humorous recreation of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights dance although I suspect this also had a social purpose to it. These four Scottish men are clearly a talented bunch with considerate natures – you have to be to make me like Heathcliff, which they almost succeeded in doing.

The show is genuinely interesting. There are aspects, however, which I just didn’t feel were necessary. For example, every so often they would indicate to another it was time for them to take centre-stage by saying their name. This didn’t happen often enough for it to become a natural part of the show so it felt a little disjointed. I really enjoyed their method of telling Wuthering Heights but the beginning and the end felt as if it could be cauterised from the show with no real effect overall.

Ultimately, I feel this show was successful and I enjoyed it but I enjoyed it despite its flaws as opposed to it being a 100% successful show. However, it is worth seeing as the concept is interesting and does turn your understanding of the book on its head.

But for now dear readers I hope you will excuse me as I proceed to sing ‘Wuthering Heights’ to myself all day long. And of course I’ll be doing my best Kate Bush impressions.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Wuthering Heights runs until the 26th October 2013 Visit https://www.bac.org.uk/content/29612/see_whats_on/current_shows/cook_up/wuthering_heights for more information and to book tickets or call 020 7223 2223

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