Wuthering Heights: 2021-22 UK tour diary

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As you’ll have probably guessed, this is pretty much the show I’ve been looking forward to for the past 18 months or so. I first read Wuthering Heights in 2018 and immediately thought it was ripe for adapting by a certain Emma Rice – and my wish must have reached her telepathically, as not too long after that she started work on her stage version of the Emily Brontë novel. With things shut down and a little more time on my hands (though not much, as I was still working), I started on a bit of a creative research project back in May 2020, gathering a selection of materials to read, watch & listen to – in the hope I might perhaps anticipate one or two of Emma’s choices whenever the show made it to the stage.

As is pretty normal for me, I start a project and then am quickly dragged away from it by competing demands. It didn’t help that I had no clear deadline in sight, as it became clear that the planned autumn run at the National wasn’t going to happen. But it’s not like it was going to be scrapped entirely, so I tucked my books away somewhere safe, ready to retrieve them when new dates were announced. Other than get started on an audiobook version of the novel, one of the first things I did when the tour was announced was set up a Spotify playlist where I could deposit songs that fit the story, themes & style. Here’s the result:

I did run out of time a bit, as there are still books left to read and other tangents to follow, but as this tour is going on until at least May next year I have plenty of time to keep adding to my knowledge (and stash of resources). By going through a study guide, I feel much more intimately acquainted with the characters – something that feels rather vital given how much name-sharing & time-hopping goes on in the story. As well as analysing the text, I’ve also had a look at some of Emily Brontë’s poetry and other literary links; the family were very familiar with Shakespeare, so there are a few direct references as well as parallels on offer. I couldn’t quite squeeze in a trip to Howarth prior to seeing the show, but that is definitely part of my plans as the tour continues.

Talking of the tour, I’m really excited to see some different venues on the list (as well as some old favourites) – after having to stay put, and then only tentatively venture away from the house, I can’t wait to properly catapult myself around the country in pursuit of theatre again.

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Bristol Old Vic (7.30pm, 11 October 2021)
The excitement was almost too much to bear. This little excursion to Bristol came off the back of a jaunt up north for Tailenders Live, followed by a few days at home in Somerset – moreover it was a Monday night! This first preview was initially planned for the Saturday night (9th), but with all my dashing around I was secretly pleased to see it pushed back a bit. I was trying to temper my excitement, in case I managed to build it up too far and ended up disappointing myself, but I needn’t have bothered. Always trust Emma! For starters, there are plenty of Kneehigh/Wise Children/Globe favourites in the cast – and any opportunity to see Katy Owen in her natural habitat has got to be a good thing. Creating a Greek chorus out of the Moor was an inspired idea, especially with the glorious Nandi Bhebhe taking the lead, and Lucy McCormick is as perfect a Cathy as I could’ve imagined. I daren’t say too much more, as I run the risk of turning this into a full review, but as I strolled down the street to my nearby Premier Inn I felt incredibly satisfied. Even though it had started about ten minutes late and then ran for three hours! Worth the wait and then some.

Bristol 2b

Bristol Old Vic (7.30pm, 16 October 2021)
This one was actually my transferred ticket from the previous Saturday – when the first preview was rearranged it wasn’t especially clear what the new starting point was, so I presumed that it had been put back a week as I was automatically offered a ticket for this Saturday. Wrong! I obviously should have asked, but most people who book the first preview do that because they want to be there for the very first performance… And I couldn’t even engineer a switch to the matinée as that was a socially-distanced performance; my main worry was getting home – in the end, I decided I’d rather shell out on an overpriced hotel room so then I could enjoy the show without stressing out about making the last train. Disappointingly the Premier Inn nearby got booked up before I made my decision, so I had to go for the slightly less nice option of the Travelodge across the river – I’m not generally a snob about these things at all, but when I tell you that my room had a whiff of stale smoke & cheap air freshener, there was a party going on in a room across the corridor, and a building site was situated right outside my window… Anyway, despite my moaning it was better than worrying about getting to Temple Meads afterwards (I probably would have just wheezed my way onto the train in time). And the show was already showing signs of development and tweaking. Sam Archer’s brilliantly ridiculous Lockwood was a definite crowd favourite, and Ash Hunter had me bawling as Heathcliff in mourning – this cast really is superb. Thankfully I’m back again very soon…

Bristol 3c

Bristol Old Vic (2pm, 19 October 2021)
I told you it was soon! Possibly my last in-person show at Bristol, as I have rather a busy couple of weeks coming up… Booked partly so I could go there & back in one day, partly to ensure my parents saw it, and partly because going as a three meant I could finally sit nearer the front! (I understand the socially distanced seating idea, but BOV really didn’t want individuals to get too close – a little flexibility could have been employed, given that the rows of seats were all being kept in place.) I’m really glad I managed to get a closer look this time, as it allowed me to scrutinise a few things which I previously had no idea about. For example, does Lockwood have a load of Scout badges on his jacket? And Frances really wasn’t convinced by Hindley’s baby name ideas (Penelope and… Sandra?!). As you can probably tell, I’m really rather invested already – to the point where I’m trying my damnedest to work out if I can squeeze another trip in. The running time, though understandable, is proving a big hindrance here. If it could start at 7pm or 7.15pm instead I’d be absolutely fine! Oh well, at least my parents are up for a little jaunt down to Cornwall for the tour dates next year, so that’s another venue I can check off my list.

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Livestream – Bristol Old Vic (7.30pm, 5 November 2021)
As I wasn’t able to get back to Bristol in the end, I was glad that the livestream option was available – even if it came at a rather busy time… In the end, though, it wasn’t quite so busy as I somehow managed to get tonsillitis?! A bit of an annoying sore throat during my trip to Stratford-upon-Avon suddenly blew up and I had my first cold-based illness in 20 months (whoever passed this on to me has got major karma on their way). Anyway, luckily I hadn’t reached the really ill stage when the livestream came around, and thankfully my always awful WiFi managed to behave itself – unlike during the Macbeth livestream… Wise Children really have got this down to a fine art now. Even watching on a small screen (I took the precaution of using my phone in case the internet went down) I still ended up bawling my eyes out, such is the strength of the show; it was probably a good idea for me to leave it alone for a couple of weeks, just to give it space to breathe – and so the effect was even more powerful.

York 1a

York Theatre Royal (7.30pm, 19 November 2021)
One whole month since I last saw the show in a theatre! Can you imagine? And this just happened to be my birthday weekend… Initially I was going to be in Glasgow for Blondie (announced well before Wise Children, in case you were wondering), but that’s been postponed until next year so this was the obvious replacement – and I was not-so-secretly thrilled about it! Seeing an Emma Rice show on or around my birthday was becoming a bit of a tradition, so it was good to pick that up again. I also finally managed to bag a front row seat, which meant I had Cathy trying to climb over me to get through the audience..! I don’t know if it was because I hadn’t seen it for a while, but it felt to me like everyone was absolutely at the top of their game. The only minor annoyance came during the interval, as I overheard the man next to me complaining that he didn’t know what was going on; I’d understand this if he were reading the book, as that does take a lot of concentration until you properly get into it, but this show explains everything so clearly that anyone should be able to follow it. I guess he wasn’t really paying attention at all as he seemed to think that Heathcliff and Cathy were blood relatives – I know there’s a lot of cousin-love in the story, but nothing any more sinister than that! (Plus there’s a whole scene where Mr Earnshaw takes Heathcliff home from Liverpool, FFS!) Oh well, it’s his loss.

York 2d

York Theatre Royal (7.30pm, 20 November 2021)
I guess that Wuthering Heights isn’t the most obvious birthday treat ever, but if you haven’t seen this one in particular then you won’t understand. Back in the front row again, and ready to see the tour off as the company take a break over Christmas – the temptation to get a last-minute ticket to the matinée was strong, but I decided to make the most of being in York and did a couple of rounds of the sightseeing bus instead. I would’ve preferred to do a load of walking, but for some reason it was absolutely rammed in the city centre… There was a definite end-of-term feel to proceedings, with everyone pushing just that extra bit more to ensure it was a show to remember. I love that I now know several “fun facts” about Isabella: favourite jam, favourite day, favourite time, and her NSFW bannister habit… (Thanks, Katy!) And how Witney manages to keep a straight face as Katy does her best to make everyone corpse, I do not know – there’s professionalism, and then there’s this. I did my best to work out what (presumably Scout badges) Lockwood’s shirt was adorned with, but the stage was a fair way away from the front row, so it’ll have to remain unknown for now. Just to top everything off I’m presuming that this was Kandaka’s final show of the tour, judging by everyone’s reactions at the end. I know a recording will be available on-demand at the end of this coming week, but after that it’s a long old wait until February…

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National Theatre – Lyttelton (7.30pm, 4 February 2022)
Press night! It seems like such a long time since November, when I last saw the show in person (I obviously watched the on-demand recording, but it’s not the same). And finally I was tasked with writing a review, after meaning to do one for months – I may well write one specifically for the blog at some point in the future, but for now BroadwayWorld UK has my extended thoughts on the show. After an unnecessarily anxious wait before the show (for whatever reason only half the doors were open, and of course I was waiting next to one of the doors that wasn’t opened), it was great to get into the theatre and see the familiar sights of the set. It was even better to see that the team have of course been working on the show in the interim, including a brand new opening and odd little tweaks here & there. Oh, plus Isabella decided to share her favourite game with the group this time! I’m fairly sure I was sat next to comedian & Taskmaster alumnus Mawaan Rizwan, or someone who looked an awful lot like him – either way, my neighbour was a massive fan of Katy’s work (who wouldn’t be?!). It was lovely to see Mirabelle move into the role of Zillah (as I suspected would happen), with new addition Stephanie Hockley joining The Moor. It still makes me incredibly emotional – more so this time, given the break between shows – but also full of joy, in that way that only an Emma Rice show can manage. Walking along the river after the performance with my playlist blaring capped off the experience just perfectly.

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National Theatre – Lyttelton (7.30pm, 9 March 2022)
I really did think I’d be here every week (or even more regularly) once it reached London and I didn’t have to plan elaborate day trips or hotel stays, but that obviously hasn’t materialised. Partly due to some frankly inaccessible ticket prices, but mostly due to a lack of organisation on my part. I am glad in a way, though, as a break of a few weeks meant the whole thing felt (sort of) new to me again; obviously I still remember the story and my favourite bits, but that’s not the same as actually seeing those things – plus they’ve clearly still been developing the show across the past month. One nice bonus of attending this performance (for me, at least) was getting to see TJ Holmes stand in as Mr Earnshaw & Doctor Kenneth, as it’s always nice to see a different spin on a character; whether some of the slapstick was intentional or accidental I honestly couldn’t tell you, but either way it definitely worked! The show was being filmed (presumably for the archives) and I’m fairly sure Katy was playing up to that – particularly when Isabella was sharing her “three fun facts” (including her main interests, this time). I highly doubt I’ll make it back again before Ash leaves, so it was good to go out on a high with this performance; he really has been an incredible Heathcliff, it’s sad to see him go.

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Hall for Cornwall (7.30pm, 8 April 2022)
Well, this one is a saga & a half. Originally I was due to see the show twice in Truro, as it seemed like a bit of a waste to go all the way down there and just see it once, but for some unknown reason the Thursday evening show got cancelled (the matinée went ahead, bizarrely). HOWEVER. It turns out I should have seen this as an omen, as I ended up stranded at Newton Abbot station for three hours waiting for the police to re-open the train lines following a fatality; even if I’d got a taxi straight from Truro station to the theatre I wouldn’t have made it in time – and I would have been incredibly stressed out, to boot. As I’m probably going to have to miss one or two stops on the tour (May is insane and we all know this country doesn’t like people travelling economically by public transport), it is a shame to ‘only’ be at one performance – but that compulsive side of me is just going to have to deal with it, and realise that it’s quite a feat to achieve as much as I have with this tour. (Also, be grateful that diary issues are your main problem at the moment, brain!)

It may have been a single helping this time, but what a show it was. What I didn’t know when I last saw the show in London was that Witney was also leaving (with Mirabelle moving around to become young Cathy now), as was Renell Shaw (familiar face Pat Moran replacing him in the band) – plus Nandi is away for a bit, so Jordan Laviniere has stepped up to become the Leader of the Moor in her stead. Phew! I was curious to find out how Heathcliff would be presented this time round, with Liam Tamne in the role – let’s just say, I wasn’t disappointed. As you would hope in this day & age (and you basically expect from Emma Rice), the show moulds itself around Tamne rather than imposing itself upon him, allowing this Heathcliff to tell a slightly different story. All very exciting! Oh, and I guess I should really give you an Isabella update? This time around she shared one of her beauty secrets and, though she doesn’t like labels, decided to come out – y’know, the usual Isabella kind of thing.

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Theatre Royal Nottingham (2pm, 30 April 2022)
Another lengthy break between shows, thanks to positive COVID tests scuppering the entire Norwich run – and I very nearly didn’t have the energy to make it. I hadn’t been able to have a lie in (& a decent amount of sleep) for about two weeks, so the prospect of getting up in time to make the 8.30am coach wasn’t exactly filling me with joy – but then I a) remembered how much I miss the show, and b) saw how much my transport & ticket had cost and didn’t fancy wasting that money..! I naïvely presumed that, as it was freezing cold in London, it would be equally cold up in the midlands – wrong! Proper spring weather in Nottingham when I arrived, so that big coat felt rather silly. I hadn’t planned anything, with there only being a couple of hours between my coach arriving and needing to be at the theatre (plus I’m always wary of delays on the road), but it was nice to just have a wander round and stretch my legs after three hours sat down reading about the role of tyrants in Shakespeare plays…

More understudy roulette this week! Though this is definitely highlighting a bugbear of non-West End theatres – why do so many find it impossible to put up a notice of some kind to tell patrons if there are any changes to the cast? Mirabelle was off this week (injured, I later found out), so Stephi took her place as young Cathy and her track was covered by some of the regular cast as well as one completely anonymous performer. I’d really love to give her a shoutout, but there’s no mention of her anywhere! This is all making the tour extra worth following, as I seem to be getting a completely new show at each venue at the moment. In that vein, Isabella keeps coming up with the goods! I was very happy to learn about a couple of her favourite past-times, including which instrument she has a particular fondness for… This trip not only gave me a new show, but another new theatre; I’ve previously visited the Royal Concert Hall (attached to the Theatre Royal) and Nottingham Playhouse, but it was nice to finally go in the oldest of these buildings. Plus it was an extra excuse to take the tram afterwards, to get to my coach in good time!

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The Lowry – Lyric (7.30pm, 6 May 2022)
This tour has been very good for ticking new theatres off my list! Some slightly more expensive than I’d like, but it’s not quite so bad when you know you’re going to enjoy the show – I can understand why some people might not want to take a chance on something about which they know nothing. I had a convoluted journey to Salford in a bid to save some money: I got some work done on the train to Liverpool, before taking another to Manchester Piccadilly – and then hopping on the tram (get in) to Salford Quays. In the (you guessed it) pouring rain! My hotel was a short walk down the quayside from The Lowry, which gave me a bit of time to refresh myself and then head back out into the rain again… I can’t say I was best impressed with the security guard at the entrance coming over to me, having noticed I was putting my mask on, and saying “You know you don’t have to wear a mask if you don’t want to.” Fine to offer that as a response if someone asks, but staff shouldn’t be actively trying to discourage mask-wearing while there are still tens of thousands of new cases and hundreds of deaths each day.

I was also initially a bit perturbed to realise that my seat was much further over to the side than I’d anticipated (given what I’d paid), but thankfully it didn’t prove to be that much of a restriction once the show started – though I was obviously sad not to be able to see the band in the back corner. The good news was that the digital programme had been updated, so I could uncover the identity of the mystery performer who has joined the ensemble! Stephi was still on as young Cathy – and doing an incredible job, I might add – so it was Katy Ellis who took on the role of Zillah (still not quite the full regular track – it’ll be interesting to see if it stays this way for the remainder of the tour). I really should have been writing down all of Isabella’s fun facts, shouldn’t I? One new addition this time, as she shared an intimate confession about her kissing preferences… And when I wasn’t guffawing at Katy, I was sobbing at Tama Phethean as Hindley – I strongly recommend you watch for him in the background as his bond with young Cathy grows (if you’re happy with going through the emotional wringer, that is). It was also a BSL-interpreted performance, which I really enjoyed; it’s much more interesting than captioned shows, as the interpreter has the chance to show a little of their own personality in how they choose to perform. My BSL is still woefully basic, though I was really chuffed to pick up the sign for ‘Heathcliff’! I can’t understand why this kind of performance isn’t a feature in the West End and other theatres nationwide.

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The Lowry – Lyric (7.30pm, 7 May 2022)
To think I was initially only going to see the show on the Friday night! I’d booked an extended stay, in a bid to watch Jimmy Anderson in Lancashire’s championship match at Old Trafford (the timing was of course too good to be true – he wasn’t playing), so my Saturday night was also free. The idea of a relaxing evening in was very tempting on the back of my journey from London, but I ended up booking my Saturday evening ticket as soon as I got back to my room after Friday’s performance. It would’ve been borderline criminal to be so close to the theatre and not be there – besides, I’m still juggling my diary & my bank balance to try and make it to Edinburgh, so best to make the most of it while I can… It did mean I had to leave the cricket slightly earlier than the close of play, but thanks to poor light I didn’t end up missing that much anyway! The fresh air definitely did me good, but it was nice to relax and have a bite to eat before heading back out again.

Thanks to my fact-finding mission the previous night, I had a better idea of where to sit – plumping for the end of the second row, with no one in front of me (just for a couple of quid more). Any opportunity to see if Katy will cause some mischief! Though I enjoyed Isabella’s latest fun fact about how she’s prone to ruining social occasions, it was Little Linton who really went for it this time… “Let me just engage my pelvic floor” his response to young Cathy trying to move him so she can set down another pillow – I’m fairly sure I shrieked with laughter when he mentioned experiencing a “pleasant tingling sensation”! Katy really is incorrigible. Though that certainly helped when the inevitable pervasive thoughts about the tour finishing started creeping in; the slight irregularity hasn’t helped, and I really can’t think why I only managed two London dates – but even if I’d seen twice as many shows I’d still be distraught at the prospect of not seeing it ever again. Now I just need to stop the sadness from spoiling the last hurrah!

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Wuthering Heights is on tour throughout the UK until 4 June 2022. Full details of the tour can be found on the official website – tickets are also available from individual box offices.

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