Thu, 18 Jul 2019
Wuthering Heights, at Wadham College, Oxford, until August 17
REVIEW BY JON LEWIS
IN a recent television episode of Killing Eve, no one notices the cleaner – a perfect disguise for an assassin. In Michael Oakley’s fast-paced Oxford Shakespeare Company and Lamplighter Drama production of Emily Brontë’s classic novel Wuthering Heights, adapted by April de Angelis, it’s the usually anonymous housekeeper Nelly Dean (Helen Belbin, excellent) that we should be noticing. Trusted by everyone, she’s anever-present figure witnessing two generations of Yorkshire families fade out of history. She’s observed the growing friendship between the foundling Heathcliff (Tyler Conti) and the wilful Cathy Earnshaw (Alice Welby), their unsuitable marriages, and the tragedies of their families. She’s the keeper of secrets, a pseudo-confessor, but not an unbiased presence. The drama begins two decades after Heathcliff arrived as a child in Yorkshire. A comic, self-deprecatory outsider, Mr Lockwood (James Sheldon) strides purposefully from behind the audience to gate-crash a family event managed by an ageing Heathcliff. Lockwood fawns over Cathy’s daughter, also called Cathy, proclaiming with a raised Roger Moore eyebrow (to many laughs) that he is no longer interested in women. His eagerness to learn the history of the young beauty provides a structure for the adaptation as he questions Nelly about Cathy.
Although Lockwood has met the moody, taciturn Heathcliff, it’s Nelly’s narrative that paints him as violent and unstable when young. She describes his many fights, the realistic blows and kicks drawing audible gasps from the audience. Nelly portrays the Linton family as effete, as she does Heathcliff’s own son Edgar (Dominic Charman), their lack of Yorkshire grit determining their early deaths.The cast’s miming of the household’s vicious dogs is thrilling. They are also accomplished actor-musicians,
performing the delicate folk numbers written by former Bellowhead drummer Pete Flood. Yorkshire’s often ferocious weather is superbly recreated by wind whistles, enhanced by the (real) breezy conditions whooshing through the many trees around the playing area. The crags and peaks of the moors are created effectively out of stepladders of different heights that are dotted about the lawn in this lovely garden. In good weather, outdoor theatre in Oxford is an essential summer tradition.