The stage resembles a gaping grave. Stephanie Street’s adaptation of Emily Bronte’s novel – one of three productions making up the National Youth Theatre’s autumn rep season – is as steeped in death as it is charged with life and love. From the beginning, all three are very much intertwined.
Street’s is a free and frank take on the text, pared down and suitably intense. In Emily Lim’s atmospheric modern production, wreathed in plastic sheeting, the characters of Heathcliff and Cathy are played by a series of different actors. Gavi Singh Chera and Francene Turner act as our narrators, telling their story in flashback from Cathy’s final resting place, their souls still hopelessly entangled.
Cathy and Heathcliff go through four other incarnations over the course of the production. This decision to fragment their roles feels like a practical response to the size of the NYT rep company as well as a way of exploring the mercurial nature of these two characters, the changing temperature of their relationship.
But while this decision is entirely understandable, it does at times make it difficult to engage fully with their plight. The switches come all too swiftly, and while Luke Pierre and Megan Parkinson’s performances feel the most shaded and whole, others make less of an impact.
Alice Feetham’s Ellen ends up being the most rounded character on stage, in part because she’s a highly capable performer, as she demonstrated in the company’s production of The Merchant of Venice, but also because she’s been given that little bit more room to develop her role.