As far as powerful evocative imagery goes, it is very difficult to top Emily Bronte’s 1847 novel Wuthering Heights.
The novel’s Gothic depictions of large Victorian estates and sprawling Yorkshire moors challenge adaptations to present a unique vision. Not only of the novel’s geographical imagery, but also its themes and characters.
I am pleased to say that the production of Wuthering Heights currently playing at the Theatre Royal until May 7th has achieved this with astounding success.
The production presents a mercifully condensed version of Heathcliff’s tumultuous relationships. Having read the novel, and listening to the Kate Bush song, I can assure that Bronte purists that nothing is lost in this adaptation.
The genius of the production is in the way it tells the story.
Though the set is minimal, changing only three times from Wuthering Heights to Thrushcross Grange and back again, the fullness of Bronte’s imagery is present through the masterful use of audio-visual effects.
From the very first scene until the climax, the audience’s senses are captivated by flashing beams of light and weird almost otherworldly sounds, as moving images are projected onto the rear curtains.
Throughout the play these technical aspects are used effectively to convey the novel’s sense of dread, physical and mental confinement, and indeed ecstasy.
The projections in particular are of specific note; they function in alternating ways to show the passing of time, geographical distance, weather, location (whoever conceived of the idea of depicting the moors through a flickering of lights and wind sound effects is a genius), and provide windows into the highly charged and emotional psyches of the characters.
Particularly ingenious is the effect shown whenever a character dies – their image burns and warps as though an actual photograph was being held to a flame.
With such potent audio-visual effects, one might easily forget that this is indeed a play and not an art exhibition, ignoring the fact that human beings are acting on the stage.
However this is most certainly not the case.
The six actors (three of whom played dual roles) demanded the audience’s full attention, each delivering a bravura performance, which was only enhanced by the technical aspects.
Of particular note is the actress playing Nelly, whose recollections frame the story; she is onstage for all but three scenes, an almost literal omnipresent narrator.
Also interesting was the use of anachronistic costuming, set designs, and dialogue.
Slinky modern dresses were worn alongside Victorian sartorial puffiness in a Wuthering Heights/Thrushcross Grange that looked as though it had been furnished by IKEA, as men in modern suits spoke in flowery and purple nineteenth-century English, liberally peppered with 21st century colloquialisms.
This anachronistic nature really showed that Wuthering Heights is a story that isn’t confined to one era; this production has one foot in nineteenth-century British literature, and another in Ramsay Street or Summer Bay, making it all the more brilliant for being so.
Literature fans and theatre fans would need no further encouragement to see this marvellous production. Outside of saying that it is a Bronte adaptation playing in Hobart’s most architecturally beautiful theatre.
But to everyone else, for whom the idea of seeing a play is perhaps an old-fashioned novelty when compared to the visual excitement of the cinema or television, I would encourage you strongly to go along one night this week and lose yourself in this immersive and highly entertaining piece of theatre.
Unlike slogging through the novel as part of a second year English class, seeing this play is something you won’t regret.