Exeter Express and Echo online (2 November 2014)
Friday night’s performance of Wuthering Heights saw the intensity cranked up a notch at Exeter’s Barnfield Theatre – with an unearthly feel that seemed only fitting for this blustery Halloween night.
The second show in The Brontë Season – presented by Butterfly Psyche Theatre & Livewire Theatre – Emily Brontë’s devastating tale of passion and loss on the Yorkshire moors starred Alison Campbell and Jeremy Fowlds as ill-fated lovers Cathy and Heathcliff.
However, as in Thursday night’s Jane Eyre, the casting was kept to a minimum as Campbell and Fowlds took on each character’s role, working together to breathe life into this disturbing story.
From the outset, a storm was brewing in the Barnfield, with sinister sound effects ripped apart by Heathcliff’s gut-wrenching cry from behind the audience.
Stumbling forwards and bellowing Cathy’s name, Fowlds kept shivers rolling down spines until the storm gusts ceased and we emerged into a conversation between new tenant Lockwood and housekeeper Ellen.
Ellen’s narration to Lockwood proved a perfect frame for the story – his questions helped us muddle our way through the web of relationships we were shown, while the breaks became a welcome relief in what was otherwise a fiercely intense 80 minutes.
The stage was starkly minimal, giving Campbell and Fowlds the freedom to make us imagine almost anything in the space – and the Yorkshire moors seemed chillingly real in the Barnfield that night.
Campbell’s versatility once again made for flawless transitions between characters – but the addition of Fowlds gave the piece an intensity even the most accomplished solo performance couldn’t have achieved. The power in Cathy and Heathcliff’s last embrace – holding fast onto one another while condemning each other, twisting love and hate together in a desperate grip – was quite simply staggering.
Fowlds’ Heathcliff was terrifying – as his frantic gazes scoured the audience, I could really believe these were the eyes of a crazed man. Given the small setting and close proximity, his tormented cries seemed almost too powerful at times – but then again, maybe it was only right for us to feel intimidated. It was Halloween, after all.
Wuthering Heights proved a darker and more harrowing experience than the first Brontë Season performance, with Saturday’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall set to bring the season to a shocking finale.