Following the flurry of A*s and 5*s for “Malory Towers” back in 2019, Wise Children are heading back to York’s Theatre Royal this month. This time they’re bringing us an adaptation of Emily Brontë’s superbly dramatic “Wuthering Heights”, and with Emma Rice at the helm, the promise of epic theatricality can be heard on the wind… Here, Lucy McCormick and Ash Hunter chat about taking on the famously tempestuous Cathy and Heathcliff…
Where are you both right now? What are you finding the most challenging and enjoyable part of the process?
Lucy McCormick (L): We’re in a dressing room at the Bristol Old Vic. We’ve just opened the show.
Ash Hunter (A): Yes, it’s very busy but very brilliant, the opening of the show has gone very well. The audiences are amazing and we’re getting into the flow of it. It’s a beast of a show which we’re very proud of, but it does take a lot of energy to do so we’re working out how to manage that. We’re currently in Bristol which is a lovely city.
Emma’s style is so distinctive, how would you describe it?
L: I would say theatrical.
A: I read somewhere that it’s ‘theatre magic’ and I think that a very apt description of her style. She’s got a massive bag of tricks which she can delve into to create something rare and different to the theatre you see anywhere else.
L: Colourful and dramatic but very theatrical and very musical. A bit of everything.
A: She clearly has a love for the stage and all of its facets; puppetry, song, dance, there’s nothing that doesn’t happen in this production. Vivid.
How are you feeling about getting stuck into this production, especially after the last two years?
L: I’ve known about this job during that whole time which was weird. It got postponed twice during those two years, but it’s good to be back being busy.
A: Previous to lockdown the last couple of jobs I have had were in TV, so it’s great to be back on stage again. But this has always been a huge production that we’ve been leading up to. So I think in terms of emotion and preparation it’s been quite a big shift starting Wuthering Heights.
Catherine and Heathcliff are a passionate pair, what are you most passionate about?
A: I’m passionate about Lucy.
L: I’m passionate about deconstructing patriarchal capitalist systems and I like peanut butter.
A: And I’m still passionate about Lucy.
Brontë’s novel has inspired so many versions, how do you both best know Wuthering Heights, book, film or the Kate Bush classic?
A: Mine is the Kate Bush song always and forever, and the Tom Hardy TV series version, which is what I based my Heathcliff on *he laughs*.
L: I have read the book, back when I was an acting student. I read it because I thought I should read some old classic novels, and this is one of the ones I read, and now I’m in it!
What can you tell us about Cathy and Heathcliff as characters, what sort of Heathcliff and Cathy will we see in this version of Wuthering Heights?
L: I’m a bit more intense than Cathy in my actual life.
A: I think what’s quite clear is that we have some similarities to our characters in real life. I think I’m a lot like him, especially the version that we are doing here. We were saying the version of Heathcliff here isn’t colourblind casting, he is black, he’s got a Jamaican accent. He’s spurned and treated like an outcast, not only because of his poverty or social standing but because of his colour, and that anger that is brewed up within him is a righteous anger. It’s something that I have felt, I think he is me if I hadn’t found my peace. I actually think that he is less brutal than the Heathcliff in the books and there was a desire to show that people are not entirely bad or entirely good. I think Emma hasn’t allowed Heathcliff to become as dark as he could have become, and there are moments where you see him soften
L: Emma wants to leave it on a positive. He’s bad enough.
A: There are moments when she wants to show the positive.
L: I’m really interested hearing you talk about it.
A: Me and Lucy are really similar in that we just do the thing.
L: My Catherine is a great one! *She laughs* She’s me.
Why do you think this is a story to be telling now?
A: For me, it’s specific to what’s going on in the world and with me and my relationship with my blackness and masculinity. I’m hoping there are people who are going to see this and identify with Heathcliff and his struggles, if you treat someone like a monster then you create a monster. You wanted a monster, you got one. Hopefully people see that reflection and even out of that can come love and positivity and if you do face that and deal with your demons something good can loom from it.
L: I do think people will always be a***holes, what’s a better way of putting that. It’s like reality TV, these awful people play out their lives and people love to look in on it and their mistakes and hopefully learn from them. It’s a classic story of dysfunctional people making mistakes and hopefully an audience can analyse it and see where it went wrong. Because people can be rubbish. And that’s never going to change, unfortunately.
This is a classic Yorkshire tale, how are your accents coming along?
A: I’m speaking with a Caribbean accent I love it because of the lyricalness of it, I can’t imagine doing it another way and also where it places him and my voice. It is there to differentiate him from everyone else, you can’t get away from his otherness. The choice that when he comes back a gentleman, that he hasn’t changed his accent, he’s a more refined posh deeper Jamaican accent but he’s not trying to change who he is, he’s owning it, it’s beautiful.
L: What was weird for me is that it’s close to my accent but not my accent. I’ve almost found that harder than say an American accent or whatever else I’ve done. It’s just working on that subtle difference. Tweaking my own voice. It’s quite annoying!
Wuthering Heights is re-opening the Bristol Old Vic after quite a break, knowing the expectations of the audience who haven’t seen any live theatre for a while does that have extra pressure?
A: Not for me. I’m aware that it might mean a lot to them. You do sense some tentativeness sometimes. And as people re-learn the rules.
L: Its always pressurised. In a way its less pressure. They’ve not seen anything! People wearing masks and stuff is weird.
A: It is, when you realise you can’t read you audience for their reactions as you can’t see their faces. It does mean you just do your thing.
L: I’m supposed to wear glasses so I can’t see the audience anyway. Which I like. I like to look out at the audience.
What can audiences expect to feel after watching this adaptation of Wuthering Heights?
A: Exhausted! It’s a whole gambit of human emotions! Emma hasn’t left anything out.
L: They are going to laugh they’re going to cry. And feel celebratory the end but they will have gone through a journey.
A: The first half is just a juggernaut. It’s a play in itself! The ending of the first half is just… Watching Catherine and Heathcliff’s descend into mutual madness is just woah! It’s cool.
L: There’s a point in the first half that you get to and you just don’t stop! And then we do a second play! The audience seem to feel good about it. Emma wants the audience to feel good at the end.
A: The first half has a massive tragedy and the second half ends with big drama but in a different way. Emma is careful to give the audience a gift to go away with.
So there you have it! Wise Children’s “Wuthering Heights” plays York Theatre Royal from 9-20 November 2021 and you can find your tickets here.
Q&A courtesy of Steve Pratt. Image credits: Steve Tanner.