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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Wuthering Heights at York Theatre Royal

The following article is from The Press.

SUE Dunderdale surveys the task of directing Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte's windy, wild tale of ill-fated love and vengeance.

"It's a fantastic story and it's a Yorkshire story," says Sue, whose production of Jane Thornton's adaptation opens at York Theatre Royal on June 2.

"All the cast, the stage management and me, we all went up to Haworth, walking up to Top Withens, which they say may be the site of Wuthering Heights, though it's now a ruin.

"It was the first time I'd been there in 20 years; the last time I was there, there was a French film crew making a film about the Brontes. Isabelle Huppert was in it, of course; she seems to be in every French film."

Revived by Yorkshire pudding and onion gravy, Sue returned to the work in hand: staging Thornton's compact adaptation of the tragic story of Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, first performed on the much smaller Hull Truck stage in 2003. "Damian Cruden the Theatre Royal artistic director had already decided on using this version, partly because it has a cast of only five, which has its advantages and disadvantages and we're focusing on the advantages," says Sue.

"I've gone for a young cast because it's very much a teenage love story. They feel that if they don't marry, they will die. Cathy married at an extremely young age; she was 17 when she married Edgar, and once she dies, Heathcliff feels dead too. He may be walking around, but he feels dead inside. Cathy died partly because she stopped eating, and so did Heathcliff."

advertisementRecords show the average age of death in Haworth at the time the Brontes lived at the Parsonage was 26, the same age as the cast's average age. "I think that makes it right that it's a very young company," says Sue.

Among her casting selections is Joel Fry for the mixed-race role of Heathcliff.

Sue Dunderdale
"I think he's an extraordinary actor. I spotted him at RADA three years ago, when I was working on a course on acting on camera.

" I was doing various film scenes, and one was from Neil LaBute's In The Company Of Men, and there was this extraordinary-looking young man, who didn't stop moving before we started, but once he was on camera he had this incredible stillness about him. That was Joel.

"I then saw him playing Abraham Lincoln in The American Play, and again he was remarkable in that."

No doubt she will be looking to bring out the intensity in Joel Fry that she found in the book. "It's the intensity that strikes you. When I read the novel again, it was like reading one of the Russians. It's like reading a Yorkshire version of Dostoevsky. It's not Jane Austen," says Sue.

"It's the expression of her soul. When you read that all Emily Bronte's life was an interior life, where all she did was walk on the moors, you realise her freedom was in her imagination and in her spirit, and that's what draws you in.

"No two people should be more together than Cathy and Heathcliff, but she makes the major mistake of her life and that destroys them as they miss out on each other.

"We may all like to pretend that we've never done that in our lives, but in her writing Emily has no such pretence. Cathy's decision destroys her life and lives around her."

What Emily did was to frame the story in her inner being and in the world she knew, says Sue.

"Edith Wharton wrote about the same subject, so did Henry James, and they were very different from Emily's spirit, which was close to Dostoevsky, but they all deal with missed opportunities - but Wuthering Heights is more cruel than the rest, extremely cruel.

"There's a grimness and a dryness that make it so Yorkshire," Sue says.

"It's all about being thwarted and thwarted is such a Yorkshire word, isn't it!"

Wuthering Heights runs at York Theatre Royal, June 2 to 23. Box office: 01904 623568.

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