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Mr Monkey sees Wuthering Heights at the Royal Exchange Theatre

Venue : Royal Exchange Theatre
Start date: 7th February 2020
End date : 7th March 2020
Visit date : 12th February 2020
Alex Austin as Heathcliff (Production photo by Helen Murray)
Heathcliff (Alex Austin) wondering if he should have stayed in Liverpool.
(Production photo by Helen Murray)
Mr Monkey looking at the poster for Wuthering Heights
Mr Monkey looking at the poster for Wuthering Heights.

Rakhee Sharma as Cathy
Cathy (Rakhee Sharma) pauses for thought while wandering the moors.

Mr Monkey took the 192 into Manchester, and scampered along to the Royal Exchange Theatre for the press night of Wuthering Heights.

Andrew Sheridan's Wuthering Heights is obviously based on Emily Brontë's novel of 1847. The most immediate change is the removal of Lockwood's visit to Wuthering Heights in 1801, and Nelly Dean telling him, in true Gothic tale-within-a-tale fashion, the history of Heathcliff, the Earnshaws, and the Lindleys.

Instead it starts in 1771, with Cathy and Hindley Earnshaw being suprised when their father returns from a business trip to Liverpool with a boy, even wilder than they are, that he apparently found in the street. Heathcliff and Cathy get on well, if you ignore the odd fight. Hindley resents Heathcliff from the start, and his dislike turns to hatred when Mr Earnshaw makes it clear that he prefers Heathcliff to Hindley as well. When Earnshaw dies, Hindley inherits Wuthering Heights and behaves as brutally towards Heathcliff as he can get away with. Cathy stays with some more sedate neighbours, the Lintons, and returns to Wuthering Heights with a completely different sense of fashion and attitude to Heathcliff. Ultimately this results in Cathy agreeing to marry Edgar Linton, despite loving Heathcliff. Heathcliff runs away to London, makes a lot of money, then returns to wreak revenge on anyone who has ever annoyed him.

The set is quite dramatic in comparison to recent Royal Exchange productions. It's mostly moorland covered in clumps of grass and flowers (these all vanish during the interval). Parts of the moor rise out of the stage, contoured like a relief map so that the actors can walk on them without sliding off. In the corner of the pod between the red and yellow staircases, there's a large tree, complete with annoyed looking but immobile birds, which can be climbed up from the stage or climbed down from the red staircase first gallery. A scattering of rocks turn out to be lighter than they look during some of the more angry moments of the play.

The costumes are period, though Mr Monkey did wonder if they were more appropriate for the year the book was written than for when the action was set. Either way, they work in the context of the play, differentiating between the 'wild' and the 'civilized' characters, and emphasising the soppiness of the soppier characters.

Mr Monkey was a little nervous about going to see Wuthering Heights, as Emily Brontë's only novel is his least favourite of all the 19th century books he's read. He was pleasantly surprised, especially when he found out that the play doesn't include Heathcliff's incomprehensible servant Joseph. He was also delighted to find out from the programme that oldest film version of Wuthering Heights, a silent film from 1920, was advertised as "Emily Brontë's tremendous story of hate".

As always, the Royal Exchange has assembled an excellent cast. Alex Austin is as grim a Heathcliff as anyone could hope to meet - he starts off wandering the moors like Frankenstein's monster; he returns from London as Hugh Grant in a very bad mood. Rakhee Sharma is equally convincing as Cathy, especially the way she changes after being savaged by the Linton's dog, though her change of clothing helps that. The rest of the cast are just as good, and everyone makes even the most bizarre lines sound as a real person might actually have said them.

Mr Monkey enjoyed Wuthering Heights a lot more than he was expecting to, and would recommends it to anyone who likes the book (and possibly to anyone who doesn't like it but has an open mind).

Wuthering Heights runs until 7th March 2020.

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