“That was absolutely outstanding,” the man behind me remarked in amazement, as we filed out of Wadham College Gardens into the quad.
And he was right. Oxford Shakespeare Company’s summer performance of Wuthering Heights blows any rival outdoor productions out of the water.
It was real, vital and emotive; as the rawness, tragedy, jealousy, rivalry, love and revenge played out unrepentantly, and the characters laughed, growled, howled and wept in equal measure.
But don’t expect anything grand or excessive from April de Angelis’ adaption of Emily Bronte’s famous novel.
After all, recreating the Yorkshire moors in a picturesque walled garden would require an extensive set. Instead director Michael Oakley relied on spellbinding us with his take on the gothic novel, and some superb casting ensured this was the case.
Michael allowed the characters to set the scene on a bare, unadorned stage, using the gardens and trees for props, as the story unfolded before us.
And what a story it was under the care of such a dynamic cast, each character instant and vital.
The hilarious posturing and pomposity of Mr Lockwood, Nellies brilliant narrating, the dark, dank grittiness of Wuthering Heights – a breeding ground for discontent, as the arrival of a mystery boy from Liverpool sends the household spiralling into a vortex from which it never recovers.
In utter contrast was The Grange, and its well to do and naive residents, unable to resist the lure and mystique of their neighbours, doomed from the word go.
But it was the acting that really held this production up. Cathy splitting the audience immediately, her passion, her inability to separate her childhood self and attachment to Heathcliff from the married and respectable woman Mrs Linton, leading to her ultimate downfall.
The rest of the characters were divided up admirably between the cast, their timing perfect, their personalities defined, a well oiled effort.
But it was Heathcliff who stole the show. Yes, Tyler Conti is easy on the eye, but from the start he was utterly mesmerising, so the audience willingly embarks on his journey with him, as he grows from child to lover and man.
He cries sporadically throughout, he fights and shouts and loves and sulks, his emotions as fine tuned to his circumstances as required. Thus we feel his rejection, abuse, banishment, torment and of course the love he feels for Cathy (Alice Welby) that comes before everything else.
In short, Wuthering Heights is a must, because this is story-telling at its best – unjudgemental, transportational, committed and memorable. If you watch anything this summer make sure it’s this production. You will never forget it.
Wuthering Heights is at Wadham College Gardens until August 15. Tickets at oxfordplayhouse.com or 01865 305305.