Theatre Royal, Brighton
Tuesday 17th May 2022
As a massive fan of David Bowie, even I will agree that occasionally his dazzling career went off track and there are one or two albums that leave me cold – that is the inevitability and beauty of being the most innovative rock star of all time. I feel like Emma Rice has become the David Bowie of British theatre. Not everything works however so much of it does that you leave this production simply blown away as if you have been standing on those ‘wily windy moors’ which Emily Bronte wrote about in the mid-nineteenth century initially under her pen name of Ellis Bell.
The well known story concerns two families of the landed gentry living on the West Yorkshire moors, the Earnshaws and the Lintons, and their turbulent relationships with Earnshaw’s foster son, Heathcliff. There were no programmes available on the evening I went so apologies if I misname some of the cast and creatives.
This is an audacious production and director Rice who also adapted the gothic novel literally throws the kitchen sink at her audience with more ideas than most production companies would dream up in the course of their entire history. A live band, bursts of song, puppets and a gloomy back projection designed by Simon Baker blend effortlessly to transform this epic story of love, revenge and redemption into an exceptional theatrical experience.
Lucy McCormick plays Catherine Earnshaw as a knotty-haired rebel and is simply stunning in the role. She sings and moves ethereally before breaking into “rock chick” mode at one point with a microphone and wind machine whilst Liam Tamne’s Heathcliff is perfectly moody and suitably Byronic performed with an Indian/Pakistani accent. When told to “Go back where you came from” the words carry all their modern-day connotations which perhaps explains his hatred of polite society as a result of not only their racism, but also colonialism. Katy Owen as Isabella Linton from the well-to-do Thrushcross Grange, completely steals the show with hilarious lines like: “Sometimes I like to slide down the banister because it tickles my tuppence.” Owen also plays young Linton (Heathcliff’s son by Isabella), and as so often before in a Rice production, hers is the standout comic performance.
At the interval I heard someone asked what they thought. “Yeah, it’s alright” was her reply. Alright! Alright! If this exquisite production is ‘alright’ they have a very disappointing theatre-going future ahead of them. This is the sort of theatre that all production companies and producers should be aspiring to. As an audience we have become accepting of mediocre theatre, theatre that is ‘adequate for the venue’ and as a reviewer I have witnessed much of this recently so it is thrilling to go to the theatre and be genuinely inspired.
This production is magnificent if a little long and not all of the ideas come off however Bowie also released an album called Never Let Me Down! One day all theatre will be this good.
Reviewer: Patrick Kearns