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Review: WUTHERING HEIGHTS at Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Review: WUTHERING HEIGHTS at Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Emma Rice's reimagined Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights

Adapted and directed by Emma Rice

Based on the novel by Emily Brontë

Berkeley Repertory Theatre

A National Theatre, Wise Children, Bristol Old Vic, and York Theatre Royal Co-production

Emma Rice's re-imagined Wuthering Heights is audacious, ingenious, and visually stunning, taking Bronte's romantic tale of the ill-fated lovers Catherine and Heathcliff and amps up the dark side. In her words, she saw a story "not of romance, but of brutality, cruelty, and revenge," and that vision coupled with some exemplary performances and stunning visuals provides a stark reminder of the power of theatre to explore and expose the ugly underbelly of human emotions.

While some people may see tinkering with sacrosanct classics a no-no (Broadway's Oklahoma remount), Rice's Wuthering Heights boldly goes where none have, adding a haunting musical score, a Greek chorus and a level of domestic abuse that is entirely unsympathetic to its main characters. The character s are all flawed; the brooding Heathcliff (Liam Tamne), the spiteful Catherine (Leah Brotherhead), the bullying Hindley (Tama Phethean) and the cuckolded Edgar (Sam Archer).

Told as a flashback, Rice's story begins with the adoption of young Heathcliff in to the Earnshaw family and follows his troubled childhood, love affair with Catherine and his single-minded focus on revenge. The ensemble acting is superb throughout with standout's Leah Brotherhead as Catherine and Sam Archer as Edgar Linton and Lockwood.

Review: WUTHERING HEIGHTS at Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Sam Archer as Mr. Lockwood and Leah Brotherhead as Catherine

Ian Ross' score is haunting and moody with a 19th century flavor highlighted by the percussion and cello. The Yorkshire Moors, led by a wonderful performance by Jordan Laviniere are the Greek chorus providing added exposition. Rice's staging is a wonder, making the most of the Roda Theatres' expansive open stage. Using a minimal set design of stacked chairs, a wall of glass window panes and a ragged wooden door, set designer Vicki Mortimer creates magic with simple props like books on the end of a pole to create the illusion of the flapping wings of birds or the use of jump ropes that bind the actors mobility.

Review: WUTHERING HEIGHTS at Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Leah Brotherhead as Catherine, Jordan Laviniere as the Leader of the Yorkshire Moors, Katy Ellis as Isabella Linton, Sam Archer as Edgar Linton

Puppets stand in as young characters in a brilliant touch by puppetry director John Leader, and a stream of projected clouds and flocks of birds add to the atmosphere. The costuming (Vicki Mortimer once again), onstage band (Pat Moran), lighting (Jai Morjaria), and choreography Etta Murfitt) all top-notch.

Review: WUTHERING HEIGHTS at Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Jordan Laviniere as the Leader of the Yorkshire Moors; Eleanor Sutton, Ricardo Castro, and Stephanie Elstob as The Moors

Rice, no stranger to the works of Shakespeare (she was the former artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe in London), is a true visionary, and at times Wuthering Heights feels like the Bards works with actors playing multiple roles, some gender bending. The chorus narration and anthropomorphizing of the Moors feels Shakespearean. Clocking in at two hours fifty, Rice's ambition is unbounded and given the source material, you may need a scorecard to track the myriad couplings, children and deaths (which are cleverly announced on small chalkboards). There's a impishness included at points like when the chorus sings If you're looking for romance, go to Broadway".

Review: WUTHERING HEIGHTS at Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Liam Tamne as Heathcliff, Jordan Laviniere as the Leader of the Yorkshire Moors; Stephanie Elstob and Ricardo Castro as The Moors

Berkely Rep has a knack for premiering exciting, challenging and wildly creative productions and Wuthering Heights clearly meets and exceeds those criteria.

Wuthering Heights continues through January 1, 2023. Tickets available at 510-647-2949 or click here.

Photo credit: Kevin Berne

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