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.

Bristol 1d

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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Wuthering Heights is on tour throughout the UK until 28 May 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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