Photo by Dylan Evans
Kaboom! shake & stir theatre co bring the classic 19th century story of Wuthering Heights to a 21st century audience. Versatile acting is supported by cracking set design and direction – keeping engagement levels high.
The novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë is adapted to the stage by Australian contemporary theatre company shake & stir. Set on the isolated moors in England in the mid-1880s, the lives of two families over two generations intersect at extremes of love and hate. The cast is small; some actors perform multiple roles. The spooky supernatural undertones rise in intensity until the climactic end.
Haven’t read the book? The production is an artistic work in its own right. The dialogue is modernised and some characters omitted, but the plot retains most of the woo and woe in Brontë’s iconic love and revenge story. In 2016, it’s tempting to throw rocks at the narrative riddled with ‘first world problems’ – as in: ‘Geez, get over it.’ This frustration at the actions of the characters is in itself entertaining. The desire to throttle them for their behaviour gets the blood pumping and helps to empathise with the victims of the story.
Encouraging such frustrated grrrs is Gemma Willing as Catherine Earnshaw, who is suitably brattish to the point where her fate seems deserved.
The standout performance is the captivating Linden Wilkinson as Nelly Dean, a servant and narrator of the story. Her pragmatic observations are witty, and her lines are enunciated with natural flair.
Taking on three characters with such skill as to overlook it is the same person is Nelle Lee – morphing from naive Isabella Linton to a snivelling coward youth (Isabella and Heathcliff’s son) later in the story.
And what of one of the ultimate romantic heroes of literature – Heathcliff? The untamed youth so twisted by scorned love that he transforms himself from gutter trash to wealthy villain as means to exact revenge. How then does Ross Balbuziente embrace the role? Handsome rogue – yes. Charismatic icon? No. Certainly Balbuziente is a talented actor, but this role has big shoes to fill: the role played in film by the likes of Laurence Olivier no less.
Scene changes are expertly directed by Nick Skubij with natural prop interaction. The set design by Josh McIntosh with lighting design by Jason Glenwright not only transforms locations and timelines but enhances the vibe. Every inch of the stage is used effectively and with sophistication – especially the spectacular projections by optikal bloc.
Less successful elements of the play include rare occasions of hard-to-hear dialogue when actors are in the back corners of the stage. The intermission also seems too long as to disconnect the storyline. As for die-hard Wuthering Heights fans – be aware this does not keep to the storyline 100%, and not just because of the swearing!
Wuthering Heights by shake & stir is polished and professional. This modern interpretation of an iconic novel is engaging with original flair.
shake & stir theatre co and Queensland Performing Arts Centre present
by Emily Brontë | adapted and created by shake & stir theatre co
Director Nick Skubij
Venue: The Playhouse | Canberra Theatre Centre
Dates: 9 – 12 March 2016
Tickets: $35 – $55
Bookings: canberratheatrecentre.com.au | (02) 6275 2700