YORK Theatre Royal will play host to the world premiere of Emma Rice’s long-touted adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights from November 8 to 20.
Rice’s company, Wise Children, is mounting the touring co-production with the Theatre Royal, the National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic (in the city where Wise Children are based in Spike Island).
Lucy McCormick’s Cathy will lead artistic director Rice’s company of performers and musicians for an elemental stage adaptation that brings new life to the epic Yorkshire moorland story of love, revenge and redemption with Rice’s trademark musical and visual style.
Emma said today: “It is with an earthy spring in my step and epic twinkle in my eye that I announce our new plans for Wuthering Heights. So many projects have fallen by the wayside during lockdown that there were times when I lost hope – but there was no need!
“Wise Children are back; stronger, wiser and grateful for the chance to sing and dance again. The exceptional cast, crew, administrative and creative teams are ready to go and we are fizzing with ideas, dreams and anticipation.
“Emboldened and humbled by the enforced break, I feel truly lucky. I cannot wait to get back to doing what I love most and to share this thrilling and important piece with the world. It’s time.”
Should you need a reminder, this is the Brontë one where, rescued from the Liverpool docks as a child, Heathcliff is adopted by the Earnshaws and taken to live at Wuthering Heights, finding a kindred spirit in Catherine Earnshaw as a fierce love ignites. When forced apart, a brutal chain of events is unleashed.
“Shot through with music, dance, passion and hope, Emma Rice transforms Emily Brontë’s masterpiece into a powerful and uniquely theatrical experience,” the tour publicity states. “Lucy McCormick leads the company of performers and musicians in this intoxicating revenge tragedy for our time, with set and costume design by Vicki Mortimer; sound and video by Simon Baker; composition by Ian Ross; movement and choreography by Etta Murfitt and lighting design by Jai Morjaria.”
Rice’s production will open at Bristol Old Vic with previews from October 11 and livestreams to be confirmed for the first week in November. Before all that, this summer Rice directs her Wise Children adaptation of Percy and Eleonore Adlon’s Bagdad Cafe at The Old Vic, in London, from July 17 to August 21, with a livestream for Old Vic: In Camera 25 on August 28.
Wise Children – the company Rice formed when her artistic directorship of Shakespeare’s Globe ended in acrimony in April 2018 after only two seasons – will be completing a hat-trick of visits to York Theatre Royal after staging Rice’s adaptation of Angela Carter’s Wise Children in March 2019 and Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers in September that year in a co-production with the Theatre Royal.
On that visit came the promise of first news of “a third collaboration between Wise Children and York Theatre Royal, this one with a Yorkshire core and National significance in 2020. Watch this space,” as The Press, York, teased. In other words, after much more space watching than first planned, here comes Wuthering Heights and the National Theatre as co-producers.
In her 2016-2018 tenure at Shakespeare’s Globe, Rice directed Romantics Anonymous, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Little Matchgirl (and Other Happier Tales).
For the previous 20 years, she had worked for Kneehigh Theatre as an actor, director and artistic director, putting the company on the national map and becoming favourites at West Yorkshire Playhouse (now Leeds Playhouse) on regular sold-out visits to Yorkshire with bravura shows replete with magical storytelling, rumbustious music and circus daring.
However, in a tale of Rice and fall, the news of Wuthering Heights’ tour comes only a day after Kneehigh announced their exit stage left bereft after “changes in artistic leadership raised questions as to whether Kneehigh could sustain their vision going forward”.
In March, founding artistic director, actor, director and teacher Mike Shepherd announced his departure – “the end of this glorious book,” he said – after more than 40 years at Kneehigh. Only two months earlier, deputy artistic director Carl Grose had left too.
The company statement reads in full: “With sadness and regret, the trustees of Kneehigh are announcing the winding down of Kneehigh Theatre.
“While the last year has been a difficult time for many people, including those employed in the arts, performance and theatre, Kneehigh’s financial stability has enabled the company to continue to create work throughout the pandemic.
“Kneehigh is grateful to its principal funder, Arts Council England, and for the significant support received from the Culture Recovery Fund, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the Coastal Communities Fund, Cornwall Council and Garfield Weston Foundation.
“Recent changes in artistic leadership raised questions as to whether Kneehigh could sustain their vision going forward. The trustees and company reflected on a possible new future but concluded that it was better and more responsible to close Kneehigh and ensure an orderly wind-down.”
“The company wants to thank everyone who came to watch the performances, the artists they have had the pleasure to work alongside, the industry collaborators and partners, the volunteers and community groups who shared their time, knowledge and stories, as well as the funders and the friends – all of whom made the work possible.”
Hedda Archbold, chair of the board, said: “The board wants to acknowledge that this is a difficult time for the Kneehigh team. We want to thank them for the excellent work they have done and pay tribute to their passion and commitment to Kneehigh.
“Last Saturday, the brilliant Random Acts Of Art had its final performance. The project has been a high point on which to end. These bold, playful, humorous and thought-provoking creative works brought together dozens of collaborators all across Cornwall, and delighted audiences out and about as well as online.
“Eclectic, anarchic, inspiring and inclusive, it embodied the spirit of Kneehigh we have loved for the past 40 glorious years. Despite the challenges of the past year, it has been an incredible journey filled with joy and delight.”
Bless you, Kneehigh, for the treasured memories, whether at the Playhouse in Leeds or on a holiday visit to the Asylum at Heligan Gardens, Cornwall, in September 2018 for Fup: A Modern Fable. Thank you and goodnight after many a good night. Your work here is done: you changed the face, the reach, the possibilities, of theatre.
Rice’s snap, crackle and pop theatre goes on, however, and tickets are sure to sell fast for Wuthering Heights on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.