Wuthering Heights

Book by Deepak Verma, music by Felix Cross and Sheema Mukherjee
Created by Tamasha, based on the novel by Emily Brontë
Northern Stage, Newcastle, and touring
(2009)

Production photo

It's Wuthering Heights, Jim, but not as we know it.

Tamasha has transferred the story of the doomed love of Cathy and Heathcliff from the wilds of Emily Brontë's Yorkshire moors to the very different wilds of the Rajasthani desert, giving it a Bollywood makeover in the process, and casting it in a new light. It is to the family of merchant Singh that the Heathcliff figure, the gypsy boy Krishna, is brought where he is welcomed very differently by son Hari and daughter Sakuntala. The basic plot - the love between Sakuntala and Krishnan, the dislike of Hari for Krishnan which leads to his demotion to servant status when Singh dies, Krishnan's departure and Sakuntala's marriage to the rich Vijay, Krishnan's subsequent return - follows the Brontë plot fairly closely but with some differences, and the latter part of the book is omitted entirely. But then any novel, particularly a 19th century novel) transposed to the stage requires substantial cutting, so there can be no issue with this.

One fairly major change is a switch from the story being told by Nelly Dean and Lockwood to using a mendicant who tells it to a street boy, which gives writer Verma the chance for a twist in the tail.

The novel's themes transfer well to the new setting, especially the rigid class/caste system and its effect upon the individual.

The difference is in the presentation. This is not just a musical but a Bollywood musical and, in that sense, does not quite live up to expectations. Our image of Bollywood musicals is of a stage full of dancers, but we never actually get that. Principals use some of what we'll call for want of a better term dance moves in their songs, but there are only two actual dancers and, to me at any rate, they did seem under-used.

But what impact does the Bollywood style have on the way in which the story is communicated to the audience? Its effect, in fact, is to lessen our engagement with the characters and their situation. For example, the songs, which are generally used as expressions of emotions rather than to carry the plot forward, are lip-synced in true Bollywood style (and very well lip-synced, too), but this does have the effect of distancing us from the emotion: we are on the outside looking in, hearing what the singers are feeling rather than experiencing it.

It hs to be said that it doesn't help that the song lyrics sometimes tend towards the banal - "I'm going to find a silver lining / For my constant monsoon cloud".

The cinematic influence is strongly felt in the opening scenes, which, surprisingly, felt rather long, and then in the rapid passage of time, in stage terms, between the arrival of Krishnan and the death of Singh, during which the children turn into young adults.

But director Kristine Landon-Smith keeps the piece moving at a cracking pace which, combined with Sue Mayes' set which powerfully suggests the sweeping desert sand dunes, carries the audience along - even though most probably know the story very well. On the whole it's an effective and certainly enjoyable addition to the large number of versions in many media of the classic story.

Howard Loxton reviewed this production at the Lyric, Hammersmith

Reviewer: Peter Lathan