REVIEW: The Australian Shakespeare Company Presents WUTHERING HEIGHTS

Passions run riot at Rippon Lea

By Kim Edwards

Emily Bronte’s classic story Wuthering Heights under the stars and in the historic gardens of the Rippon Lea Estate is a beguiling prospect, and this production is both stylish and polished.

Wuthering Heights

With a script by Vince Foxall and direction by Greg Carroll, the torrid tale of Heathcliff and Cathy’s infamous relationship is unleashed among picnic hampers and lawn chairs, and as darkness fell, the night grew chill, and the wind ruffled the cast’s flowing skirts and shirts and the blankets over our knees, the atmosphere for the dark developments of the second act was delightfully apt.

Adapting Bronte’s sprawling problematic novel into a slim and sleek two-and-a-half hour performance is an impressive task, and there is much to admire here. The doubling of characters is well-wrought by a versatile cast who keep the complex genealogy remarkably comprehensible. The multiple narrators are adroitly managed, designer Glenn Elston has worked wonders with a limited lighting rig, and the beautiful sparsity in set and staging is highly effective.

Since the plot is remembered in popular culture as a determinedly romantic and fervent love story, the simmering sexual tension of the novel is understandably made explicit here: some characters are surprisingly handsome, relationships like that of Hindley and Francis and young Heathcliff and Cathy are slightly oddly romanticised and highly sexually charged, and much of the novel’s overt violence is discretely downplayed.

Less successful though for this production are some uneven accents, and the fever pitch at which all the characters are played. Although Bronte’s text is both epic and poetic, the Shakespearean-style proclaiming and frantic dialogue pace is sometimes disconcerting and deprives some of the minor characters of their normalcy and dignity and calmness that is needed to keep the plot’s passionate love triangle grounded.

Spencer Scholz finally remedies this with the quiet gravity of his older Edgar Linton, and his superb characterisation of the brutish but endearing Hareton, while Ciume Lochner works hard to capture the caprices, charms and exasperations of both Cathies. Michael Wahr becomes a pleasingly grim and bitter Heathcliff, and handles the transformation from outcast child to vengeful gentleman with skill.

Wuthering Heights is a very enjoyable evening’s entertainment, and if the imposing backdrop of the mansion is disappointingly unacknowledged in this production, there are torrents of drama and intrigue and an excess of love and hatred to keep an audience engaged. Dress warmly though, for the wuthering is highly realistic…

DATES: 17 February 2014 – 13 March 2014
WHEN: Monday to Thursday at 7pm (no show Monday 10 March 2014)
WHERE: Rippon Lea House and Gardens, 192 Hotham Street, Elsternwick
TICKETS: Adults $45, Conc $40, Groups 10+ $40, Children 5 -15yrs $25
BOOKINGS: or Ticketmaster