OUT IN THE FOREST, SOMETHING STIRS…
The slope beneath the great chestnut trees makes a perfect arena: on tiered seating or below it on chairs, the audience are held breathless by Emily Bronte’s unfolding melodrama, as players with whitened faces, mummer-style, appear from the depths beyond or roam between convincingly aged tombstones.
This is outdoor theatre for the summer, surrounded (on “Jimmy’s Farm”) by strings of lights leading down paths through the gloom, and that rejoicingly summery mud-and-Portaloo festi-vibe we love. The informality is enhanced by the fact that your ticket will probably be taken and your steps guided, by Edgar Linton in his pink top-hat (Laurence Pears) or by one of the Cathys: the dark impassioned Cathy Earnshaw (Kirsty Thorpe) or her scampering spirited Linton daughter (Anna Doolan). And that Heathcliff, saturnine and savage, the white makeup eerie beneath dark curls, peers out from nearby trees in the person of Daniel Abbott.
It is a sharply, neatly adapted version by the director Joanna Carrick, moving spirit of the splendid Red Rose Chain Theatre. It works with a mixture of naturalism, narrative split between the players as if in some ancient ritual, and occasional chanted choral lines which raise the hairs on the back of your neck. I wondered, in the headlong first half – from the Earnshaw childhood to Cathy’s death and Heathcliff’s crazed grief – how she would handle the second part. The novel’s shape is very different from what a classic tragedy asks, its climb towards reconciliation and the rappreochement of Hareton and young Cathy less arresting dramatically than the wildness of the first part.
But Carrick uses the deepening darkness of the evening cleverly, with a constant sense of the haunting Catherine and the haunted Heathcliff set, in black moments, between particularly charming and cleverly adapted Hareton-and-Cathy scenes. Indeed Joel Johnson’s Hareton – childish, then loutish, then earning a wounded dignity – is one of the high points of the show. He’s still training at the Bristol Old Vic: watch out for him. Also worth watching is Rachael McCormick as Nelly: she holds the narrative together with authority and humour. But they’re all good, and the production of a standard you don’t often find outdoors, not on a dank evening up a farm track near the Orwell Bridge. It’s in rep with Red Rose Chain’s COMEDY OF ERRORS, which word of mouth is also recommending. May it stay dry for them…
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