Wuthering Heights, Rippon Lea House & Gardens, 26 February: Review
The breeze picks up and rustles through the trees as we make our way to the lawn outside Ripponlea House. Picnic blankets fly through the air as each patron hurries to claim their spot and dig into their baskets for wine and cheese. Before the play has begun we deem the night a success. A production staged at twilight in such beautiful surrounds to a crowd of no more than 50 – it can only be a pleasant experience.
When the show begins we’re startled to attention by Lockwood (played by Alec Gilbert) screaming down the aisle toward the stage. The mood of the evening shifts as we remember what we’re here to see. The Australian Shakespeare Company’s interpretation of Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte’s classic in which each character suffers misery, abuse, and the dangers of unrequited love. But the production does well with such dark subject matter and although each character’s intense emotions are felt we never slip completely into despair. Instead we follow the story eagerly and delight in what can be achieved with very little props, costuming, and set design.
As with Bronte’s novel it takes a moment of confusion before the audience works out who is who but the faithful portrayal of each character assists, and despite some actors playing dual roles the story becomes easy to follow. Ciume Lochner in particular manages to portray the many facets of Cathy Earnshaw’s character (from downright evil to simply foolish) then returns to the stage as Young Cathy Linton to tackle the subtle differences between the two.
The actors flit between the stage, the aisles, and the porch of Ripponlea House creating a ‘fly on the wall’ effect for the audience. But the most notable element of the production is the way it is timed with the light. The show begins in sunlight with Cathy and Heathcliffe’s blossoming romance, and as the story delves into darker territory the shadows grow longer until nightfall comes and hysteria is at its peak. By the time Edgar Linton (Spencer Scholz) breaks down into hysterical laughter a bat circles menacingly above our heads.
With only a limited number of performances over the coming weeks, be sure to book tickets ahead of time. It also gets quite cold when the sun goes down so don’t be shy about bringing jackets, blankets, and cushions to sit on. There is a food truck on site where you can grab a coffee at intermission but its selection is limited so bring some snacks too. Even if you aren’t a fan of Wuthering Heights it’s a nice afternoon in the gardens, and you’ll fall in love with Healthcliff – played by the super handsome Michael Wahr.
The Australia Shakespeare Company’s production of Wuthering Heights runs until Thursday 13 March.
Words: Alix Palmer