It was with much excitement and some slight trepidation that I entered the theatre for Northern Ballet’s Wuthering Heights. A combination of two of my favourite things could prove wonderful, or perhaps I would struggle to see beyond all that was missing.
The curtain rose to reveal a sparse, eerie stage, the moors an appropriate place to start. A young Heathcliff prancing around the stage went on a tad too long for my liking but it was important to demonstrate who the younger characters were. The continual reappearance of the youthful incarnations of both Cathy and Heathcliff served as a reminder of the carefree nature of their time on the moors, giving evidence as to why they continually long to return to it. There were some nice moments of choreography with both the younger and older Heathcliff dancing on stage together – separate but connected by the mirroring of movement.
Overall I found the first act too lighthearted, both the music and choreography felt too jolly and time was wasted in unnecessary comedic scenes. The novel is loved for its dark and moody nature but come the interval I felt this interpretation lacked much of the novel’s intensity.
The second act fared better. There was wonderful contrast between the bright, celebratory wedding of Cathy and Edgar and their beautiful pas de deux and the darkness of Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff and Isabella’s pas de deux was a highlight for me, brilliantly capturing the conflicting emotions Isabella feels for Heathcliff. It was almost uncomfortable to watch the dominance he holds, the threat of violence and her fear of him alongside an obvious desire to please and be loved by him.
Mlindi Kulashe played an excellent Hindley, and Tobias Batley expressed much of Heathcliff’s inner torment through his eyes. Rachael Gillespie embodied the free, perhaps sometimes excessively childlike, nature of young Cathy and Martha Leebolt made a confident Cathy.
A slightly dubious start there may have been but the cast was strong, the music memorable, and the challenge of condensing this complex novel into a two act ballet was tackled admirably. Act two was far more emotionally charged and intense and the stronger moments made it worth watching.