Picture credit Gary Lawson

One of the most powerful love stories ever written, by one of our greatest feminist writers, is brought to Oxford by one of the country’s leading feminist playwrights. Quite a line-up then.

Oxford Shakespeare Company has joined forces with Lamplighter’s, resulting in April de Angelis’ striking stage adaptation of Emily Bronte’s spell-binding Wuthering Heights.

pics by Gary Lawson

“It is still a piece of epic story-telling,” director Michael Oakley tells me, “and as Oxford already had so much Shakespeare on this summer, we decided to give audiences other options. Doing something a bit different this summer really made sense.”

And while Wadham’s gardens may be a far cry maybe from the rugged Yorkshire moors where Emily Bronte’s famous novel is set, it is an exciting diversion nonetheless for Oxford.

The chemistry between cathy and heathcliff was paramount in terms of casting

“Yes it is set in a bucolic garden rather than the windswept moors in Yorkshire, but it’s more about conjuring the literature to mind – the best literary adaptions require the audience to go on a journey with you,” he explains.

“And while Wuthering Heights is a love story, it is also about revenge and social elevation, because the class system was so entrenched in the late 18th century, early 19th,  and I wanted to depict those worlds.”

Alice Welby – Cathy
Tyler Conti – Heathcliff
pic by Gary Lawson

Rather a brutal story though I’ve always thought. “Yes but what makes it endure is Emily Bronte telling the story without any judgement and then lets you decide. “The book is just a series of events, so whether Heathcliff is a hero or villain is up to you. And people are still undecided.”

What does Michael think? “ I’m not sure it’s a love story, but I think Wuthering Heights aims to provoke and evoke, this version certainly does.

“Fundamentally I suppose it’s more of a morality tale than anything. Heathcliff finally gains his place in society. His social aspirations are integral but when he gets there he realises that it doesn’t mean anything.”

Casting was therefore vital and Michael saw an endless stream of hopeful Heathcliffs and Cathys stream through his door.

“In our version Heathcliff is a relatively young man, which makes the story more credible because his and Cathy’s behaviour was self-centred, carefree and selfish like only like teenagers and young people can be. The chemistry between the two was also paramount, so finding Alice Welby and Tyler Conti was a gift.”

So is Michael pleased with the resulting play? “It is a real theatrical experience and despite the darkness we have found a lot of humour in the text, and do offer a way through so that it ends with hope.

“It is also entertaining, funny and involved.

“OSC audiences have always been hugely loyal but they know our productions are about values and quality, as well as some epic story-telling and Wuthering heights won’t disappoint. The reactions so far have been really encouraging.”

Oxford Shakespeare Company presents Emily Brontë’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ in Wadham College gardens until August 17.

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