It hits you with a bang – loud and shocking – as the demure, frightened maid Nelly (Giulia Innocenti) is interrogated from a loud menacing tannoy under harsh lighting about ‘The Monster!’ This is in sharp contrast to the delightful bucolic bird song greeting you as you enter the venue. She is frightened, yet still cutting vegetables – albeit menacingly, with each chop reverberating around the auditorium, echoing the fears and fortunes of looming disasters; these vegetables become an intrinsic tool, a symbol of normality in their daily lives, yet metaphors of violence, when pulverised and twisted spectacularly by Heathcliff (Ike Bennet), in his brutal, violent attack at the end of the first Act.

Credit: Alex Brenner

This production tells the classic, gothic tale of poor little orphan Heathcliff who is taken in by Mr Earnshaw, but from Nelly’s perspective; incorporating themes of power, love, corruption, violence, revenge, class, and wealth.

Elena Pena and Dan Balfour’s sound design is true mastery. Dark haunting atmospheres of storms, bells, choral works, and heartbeats, set the tone and create a foreboding atmosphere. Actors periodically shout out from microphones placed around the stage creating a dramatic effect on the audience.

A large family tree dominates the back wall of the simple black set and is used effectively, with photographs of characters cleverly added and taken away. Johanna Martensson’s designs offer a quirky take on period costumes with Vivian Westwood-esque tweeds, exterior bustiers, and bustles. Whereas other characters deliver their performances in modern-day jeans and t-shirts.

Credit: Alex Brenner

This first-class flamboyant band of six actors exceptionally blend raw emotions with lively raucous banter, their impeccable comedic timing means you can’t decide whether to laugh or cry at any given moment. The highly energetic and agile cast members spring around the stage – the embodiment of wild adolescent innocence, creating organised chaos.

Innocenti is an absolute triumph, from her Po-faced delivery, her kind and sensible persona, to her natural stage presence, she instantly builds a rapport with the audience – and has a calming influence on much of the wild goings on. Bennet’s Heathcliff shows expert character development from an innocent and terrified outsider as the little boy arrives on his perilous journey, changing him into a heinous and controlling man who ultimately seeks power and revenge.

Lua Bairstow plays the strong-willed, beautiful, and spoilt Catherine; her short-haired, gawky, larger-than-life adolescent tom-boy brings great passion and arrogance to her free-spirited character, which makes her life-long conflict between her true love – Heathcliff and her strong desire for social status, all the more distressing. Nicole Sawyer also stands out as Young Cathy, inheriting her mother’s wayward, mischievous spirit yet adding elegance and sweetness, with her sharp pink froufrou dress. John Askews’ Hindley goes from a tormenting bully to a self-important and cruel new Master which the audience despises. Leander Deeny’s foppish, Linton is hysterical and delusional as he believes he is a superhero and Deeny masterfully changes character with the flick of a coat.

Credit: Alex Brenner

Ben Lewis’ script is full of wit and Lucinka Eisler’s direction is truly remarkable, crafting a cleverly staged production. Together they turn this tragic classic completely on its head, modernising the production to appeal to all ages. The script is peppered with modern-day references, which make the show hysterical from start to finish. From a love confession featuring a Take That song to crazy bright pink outfits; the endless innovative ideas keep the audience constantly on their toes – there is never a dull moment.

Adaptions of traditional historical prose can be rather hit-or-miss but I’m glad to say this is a real hit. Whether you know the story or not, this lively production of Wuthering Heights is a truly gripping masterpiece from beginning to end.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Wuthering Heights is at Royal & Derngate Northampton until the 6th May, ahead of a UK tour, playing Oxford, London, Coventry and Newcastle.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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