Although in the days leading up to this outdoor theatre production the grounds of Castle Howard must have been doing a good impression of the windswept, rain-soaked moors, by the time the audience arrived for this first night, the weather had become benign and sunny. While this may not have enhanced the drama of the piece, it certainly made for a more comfortable audience experience.
The setting was a large enclosure in the walled garden, not normally open to the public. The set was very simple – an area of decking with a range of wooden stepladders behind and clothes rails left and right which doubled as screens for costume changes. This may not sound very evocative but the cast were able to transport us to Cathy and Heathcliff’s world through the quality of their acting, the imaginative use of props and mime, and a wide range of ingenious sound effects. From time to time, the intense action was relieved by original music. April de Angelis’ thorough adaptation of Emily Bronte’s classic novel is a very worthy addition to more famous ones that have gone before.
The standard of acting was very high for an outdoor performance. Among a strong cast, Alice Welby, a relative newcomer to the company, stood out as Cathy. She was exceptional at conveying, sometimes just by facial expression, the quicksilver changes of mood of the troubled heroine. Tyler Conti as Heathcliff evoked our sympathy as the young man, only to cast it aside as his character developed. James Sheldon, as Mr Lockwood the prospective tenant of Heathcliff, helped us through the story with wit and dry humour. Much of the action was introduced by the maid (played in a sympathetic and suitably no-nonsense way by Helen Belbin) recounting the backstory to Mr Lockwood – a simple but effective device.
The Oxford Shakespeare Company have staged productions at venues such as Hampton Court and Kensington Palace since forming 18 years ago, but this is their first visit to Castle Howard. If you can only go to one outdoor theatre production this summer, I recommend you make it this one.
Wuthering Heights continues at Castle Howard until Sunday, 30 June with additional matinee performances on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets can be booked at https://www.castlehoward.co.uk/DB/whats-on-view/live-outdoor-theatre-emily-brontës-wuthering-heights