REVIEW: Wise Children’s Wuthering Heights, York Theatre Royal, until November 20 *****

Out on the wily, windy moor: Ash Hunter’s Heathcliff, Lucy McCormick’s Catherine Earnshaw and Nandi Bhebhe’s The Moor in Wise Children’s The 39 Steps

FIVE years ago, when Emma Rice all too briefly ruled the Globe, executive producer Tom Bird told her he would be fleeing the Shakespeare nest to move to York. “I’m going to do Wuthering Heights,” she told him that day.

Bird, now York Theatre Royal’s chief executive, recalled Rice’s vow at Wednesday’s post-show Q&A session, as the two friends from London days discussed Wise Children’s gothic musical play that felt like it had indeed “come home”, as both Bird and Kate Bush before him, put it.

In turn, Nottingham-born Rice remembered childhood walks up to the Top of th’ Withens – the West Riding house said to have inspired Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights – on her Yorkshire visits.

True to her word, Wise Children artistic director and former Kneehigh theatrical pioneer Rice has made her Wuthering Heights, in tandem with production partners York Theatre Royal, the Bristol Old Vic and the National Theatre, no less.

Rice’s association with Bird post-Globe has been a joyous and fruitful one for the York theatre, first hosting the premiere of Wise Children’s debut, Angela Carter’s Wise Children, then collaborating on her adaptation of Enid Blyton’s jolly-hocket-sticks Mallory Towers in 2019. Wuthering Heights would have followed far sooner but for the delay impact of Covid’s long winter.

As eggs is eggs, and Rice is Rice, the wait has been well worth it, and sure enough the Theatre Royal snapped, crackled and popped with excitement as smiling, exhilarated university theatre students took their turn to be photographed with an ever-obliging Rice in the foyer in the post-show buzz. If you could bottle the essence of theatre, why it can and should matter to all ages, why it still has limitless possibilities, then bottle that air right here, right now.

How come there is so much life in Emma Rice’s Wuthering Heights when there is so much death and “so little love” in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (with a helpful, if grim family tree at the beginning of the digital programme)? Because she doesn’t look at life the way that others might, or tell it the way others might. Take, for example, her opinion that Emily Bronte is an “overlooked comic genius”, presenting as evidence the foppish Lockwood (Sam Archer) and Little Linton Heathcliff (Katy Owen), “the most despicably funny character ever written”.

Or how Rice transforms the Yorkshire moorland into a character, The Moor, led by Nandi Bhebhe, the narrator in a crown of thorns and twigs. All but Lucy McCormick’s Catherine Earnshaw and Ash Hunter’s Heathcliff play The Moor in Rice’s ensemble and even McCormick is seen shaking a stick feverishly in the first evocation of the moorland, amid the sound and fury of the live band’s percussive clatter signifying everything about Yorkshire’s tight, stifling grip.

Bhebhe’s bad weather-forecasting Moor and cohorts become the equivalent of Macbeth’s witches, both McCormick’s Cathy and Hunter’s conversing directly with her, although the cautionary Moor is trying to save them  from themselves.

Who cannot but love the team play in writer-director Rice’s shows, as exemplified by those Moors: the Moors, the merrier, as it were. Her cast sits attentively to the sides, always in view, visibly enthusing in each other’s performances as they conjure what Hunter calls her “theatre magic”.

Rice pulls off the feat of being deadly serious and yet seriously funny too; one review even used the words “camp” and “pastiche” to describe elements of the performance style, and there is something of the affectionate irreverence of Lip Service’s Withering Looks show about Rice’s script, not least when she comments on why do so many men’s names begin with H and why do so many characters have similar names?

Helpfully, each death is registered on a chalk board – as well as being signified by dark birds in flight across the projection screen – but there is a greater motive behind those boards: Rice’s passionate belief in the importance of literacy, a learning tool that was denied to Hareton by Heathcliff.

Rice is an audacious theatre-maker; she takes chances and invariably they pay off, typically in her casting choices, most notably maverick, fearless performance artist Lucy McCormick as her “unwell, prisoner-of-her-time Cathy, neither tortured romantic heroine, nor minx”.

“Lucy is a rock star,” she reasoned, and as if to prove the point, banshee McCormick suddenly grabs a microphone at one point, her locks tossed asunder by a fan, for an ensemble dance number that could have come from Rent or Spring Awakening as much as from the people’s operas of Brecht & Weill.

There is so much to love about Rice’s Wuthering Heights; the echo of Lawrence Olivier’s black-and-white film 1939 film in the title wording on screen; Vicki Mortimer’s set and costume designs, especially the towers of chairs; the use of puppetry and dance and projections; Ian Ross’s  songs, whether in folk musical major keys or minor keys for bleaker undercurrents; the musicianship of Sid Goldsmith, Nadine Lee and Renell Shaw; the way this is anything but the Heathcliff and Cathy show.

Katy Owen brings such heart to her double bill of spoilt toffs, Isabella and Little Linton; Sam Archer is playful as the absurd Lockwood and grave as the inadequate Edgar Linton; Tama Phethean’s glowering, towering Hindley and Hareton Earnshaw, the one bruising, the other bruised, hit home, and while Rice’s company makes you feel they are all scene stealers, none does more so than Craig Johnson’s deathly-camp Dr Kenneth.

Ultimately, spread over this revenge tragedy’s ensnaring three hours, this is more Heathcliff’s Wuthering Heights than Cathy’s, on account of Rice’s most serious social commentary of all, on racism, prompted by her visit to the Calais Jungle. Hunter’s intense, brooding, raging Heathcliff is the refugee, the outsider, of Jamaican roots, abused and mistreated. “Cruelty breeds cruelty. Be careful what you seed,” cautions Rice.

And yet, amid so little love and so much 19th century grimness up north, Rice finds an uplifting finale so beautiful that it brings tears of joy.

Tickets are still available; crack the whip, like Rice’s Cathy and Heathcliff, and book every last seat. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

“When Ash and Lucy start to fizz together, the planets start to spin,” says Emma Rice of her Wuthering Heights coupling

Lucy McCormick’s “rock star” Cathy in Wise Children’s Wuthering Heights at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Steve Tanner

ASK Wise Children artistic director Emma Rice why she cast performance artist and actor Lucy McCormick as Cathy in her stage adaptation of Wuthering Heights, and she replies: “Lucy is a rock star.”

Literally and metaphorically! She is pure charisma and has a wildness of spirit that takes my breath away. She is fearless, passionate, seriously sexy and maverick,” says Emma. “She was my Catherine Earnshaw from the moment I saw her perform and I cannot believe my luck that she is creating this role with me. I am in awe.”

Ask Emma why she picked Ash Hunter for Heathcliff, and she enthuses: “Oh, everything! Ash Hunter is everything I want from my Heathcliff. He has a unique intensity that could stop a train in its tracks and a deep understanding of human love, rage and sorrow. He is one of the finest actors I have ever worked with and when he and Lucy start to fizz together, the planets start to spin. I am beyond words.”

From Tuesday (9/11/2021), Lucy and Ash will be at York Theatre Royal, leading Rice’s company in Wise Children’s wild folk musical account of Emily Bronte’s raging Yorkshire moorland tale of love, revenge and redemption in a co-production with the York theatre, the National Theatre and the Bristol Old Vic.

Here Lucy and Ash discuss Emma’s directorial style, returning to the stage, their roles, their passions, their accents.  

Emma’s style is so distinctive, how would you describe it?

Lucy: “I would say ‘theatrical’.”

Ash: “I read somewhere that it’s ‘theatre magic’ and I think that a very apt description of her style. She’s got a massive bag of tricks, which she can delve into to create something rare and different to the theatre you see anywhere else.”

Lucy: “Colourful and dramatic but very theatrical and very musical. A bit of everything.”

Ash: “She clearly has a love for the stage and all of its facets; puppetry, song, dance, there’s nothing that doesn’t happen in this production. Vivid.”

How are you feeling about getting stuck into this production, especially after the last two years?

Lucy: “I’ve known about this job during that whole time, which was weird. It got postponed twice during those two years, but it’s good to be back being busy.”

Ash: “Previous to lockdown, the last couple of jobs I’ve had were in TV, so it’s great to be back on stage again. But this has always been a huge production that we’ve been leading up to. So, I think in terms of emotion and preparation it’s been quite a big shift starting Wuthering Heights.”

“When Ash and Lucy start to fizz together, the planets start to spin,” says director of Ash Hunter’s Heathcliff and Lucy McCormick’s Cathy in Wise Children’s Wuthering Heights. Picture: Steve Tanner

Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff are a passionate pair, what are you most passionate about?

Ash: “I’m passionate about Lucy.”

Lucy: “I’m passionate about deconstructing patriarchal capitalist systems and I like peanut butter.”

Ash: “And I’m still passionate about Lucy.”

Emily Brontë’s novel has inspired so many versions. How do you best know Wuthering Heights: as the book, a film or TV adaptation or that Kate Bush song?

Ash: “Mine is the Kate Bush song, always and forever, and the Tom Hardy TV series version, which is what I based my Heathcliff on,” [he says with a laugh].

Lucy: “I’ve read the book, back when I was an acting student. I read it because I thought I should read some old classic novels, and now I’m in it!”

What sort of Heathcliff and Cathy will feature in this version of Wuthering Heights?

Lucy: “I’m a bit more intense than Cathy in my actual life.”

Ash: “I think what’s quite clear is that we have some similarities to our characters in real life. I think I’m a lot like him, especially the version that we are doing here. We were saying the version of Heathcliff here isn’t colour-blind casting; he is black, he’s got a Jamaican accent.

“He’s spurned and treated like an outcast, not only because of his poverty or social standing, but also because of his colour, and the anger that’s brewed up within him is a righteous anger.

“Colourful and dramatic but very theatrical and very musical,” says Lucy McCormick, summing up Emma Rice’s stage version of Wuthering Heights. Picture: Steve Tanner

“It’s something that I have felt; I think he is me if I hadn’t found my peace. I actually think that he is less brutal than the Heathcliff in the book and there was a desire to show that people are not entirely bad or entirely good. I think Emma [Rice] hasn’t allowed Heathcliff to become as dark as he could have become, and there are moments where you see him soften.”

Lucy: “Emma wants to leave it on a positive. He’s bad enough.”

Why should this story be told now?

Ash: “For me, its specific to what’s going on in the world and with me and my relationship with my blackness and masculinity. I’m hoping there are people who are going to see this and identify with Heathcliff and his struggles. If you treat someone like a monster, then you create a monster. You wanted a monster, you got one.

“Hopefully, people see that reflection and even out of that can come love and positivity, and if you do face that and deal with your demons, something good can come from it.”

Lucy: “I do think people will always be a***holes; what’s a better way of putting that? It’s like reality TV, these awful people play out their lives and people love to look in on it and their mistakes and hopefully learn from them.

“It’s a classic story of dysfunctional people making mistakes and hopefully an audience can analyse it and see where it went wrong. Because people can be rubbish, and that’s never going to change, unfortunately.”

This is a classic Yorkshire tale; how are your accents coming along?

Ash: “I’m speaking with a Caribbean accent. I love it because of the lyricalness of it. I can’t imagine doing it another way and also where it places him and my voice. It is there to differentiate him from everyone else; you can’t get away from his otherness.

Ash Hunter’s Heathcliff with Katy Owen’s Isabella in Wise Children’s Wuthering Heights. Picture: Steve Tanner

“The choice that when he comes back a gentleman, that he hasn’t changed his accent, he has a more refined, posh, deeper Jamaican accent but he’s not trying to change who he is, he’s owning it. It’s beautiful.”

Lucy: “What was weird for me is that it’s close to my accent but not my accent. I’ve almost found that harder than say an American accent or whatever else I’ve done. It’s just working on that subtle difference. Tweaking my own voice. It’s quite annoying!”

What can the York audiences expect to feel after watching this adaptation of Wuthering Heights?

Ash: “Exhausted! It’s a whole gamut of human emotions! Emma hasn’t left anything out.”

Lucy: “They’re going to laugh, they’re going to cry – and feel celebratory at the end but they will have gone through a journey.”

Ash: “The first half is just a juggernaut. It’s a play in itself! The ending of the first half is just… Watching Catherine and Heathcliff’s descent into mutual madness is just woah! It’s cool.”

Lucy: “There’s a point in the first half that you get to and you just don’t stop! And then we do a second play! The audience seem to feel good about it. Emma wants the audience to feel good at the end.”

Ash: “The first half has a massive tragedy and the second half ends with big drama but in a different way. Emma is careful to give the audience a gift to go away with.”

Wise Children’s Wuthering Heights runs at York Theatre Royal, November 9 to 20. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Lucy McCormick in Wise Children’s tour poster for Wuthering Heights, leaping onto the York Theatre Royal stage from Tuesday. Picture: Hugo Glendinning




Could James Bond ever be woke? Question of the day for podcasters Chalmers & Hutch

Time for the “old” Bond to die out?

AS No Time To Die opens at last, Two Big Egos In A Small Car podcasters Graham Chalmers and Charles Hutchinson consider the future direction of James Bond in the post-Daniel Craig era.

What else is up for debate? Petrol, panic stations and the arts. Angela Carter on sexism in Hollywood before #MeToo. Interviewing Michael Parkinson on the art of interviewing. Defining craft beer – or not – at Harrogate Beer Week.

So much for arts and culture podcasters Chalmers & Hutch to discuss in Episode 58 at: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/9286551

Darker nights, ghostly tales and premieres stalk York Theatre Royal’s Haunted Season

Let’s stalk: Will York Theatre Royal’s fabled ghost, The Grey Lady, make an appearance during The Haunted Season this autumn?

ONCE nights start to draw in, York Theatre Royal will fill its stage with spirits and shadows in The Haunted Season from September 9.

In the home of the restless ghost of the Grey Lady, world premieres by Emma Rice, Matthew Bourne and Tonderai Munyevu will be complemented by scary appearances by horror favourites Dracula, The Hound Of the Baskervilles and the Headless Horseman.

As trailered in CharlesHutchPress, Emma Rice’s Wise Children will complete a hattrick of Theatre Royal visits with Rice’s new adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights in a Theatre Royal co-production with the National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic from November 9 to 20.

Lucy McCormick will play Cathy in this world premiere as Rice’s visual and musical style brings new life to this epic Yorkshire story of love, revenge and redemption.

“It is with an earthy spring in my step and epic twinkle in my eye that I announce our new plans for Wuthering Heights,” says Rice, who presented Angela Carter’s Wise Children at the Theare Royal in March 2019 and Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers that September.

Lucy McCormick’s Cathy in the poster for Wise Children’s world premiere of Emma Rice’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights. Picture: Hugo Glendinning

“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.”

Earlier in the Haunted Season, from September 30 to October 2, will be the world premiere of celebrated choreographer Matthew Bourne’s The Midnight Bell, a dance exploration of “intoxicated tales from darkest Soho”, inspired by English novelist and Gaslight playwright Patrick Hamilton.

Delving into the underbelly of 1930s’ London life, this New Adventures show invites audiences to step inside The Midnight Bell, a tavern where one particular lonely hearts club gathers to play out lovelorn affairs of the heart: bitter comedies of longing, frustration, betrayal and redemption.

The Theatre Royal had to wait for 30 years for Londoner Sir Matthew Bourne, doyen of dandy dance, to bring a show to York for the first time on his Early Adventures tour in March 2017 after he introduced mid-scale touring. The Theatre Royal promptly booked his next tour, Matthew Bourne’s Deadly Serious, but that visit never materialised. Now, however, Bourne is back with his Soho tales.

Matthew Bourne’s The Midnight Bell: Delving into the underbelly of 1930s’ London life in the New Adventures production from September 30 to October 2

The season will open with another world premiere, Zimbabwean writer-performer Tonderai Munyevu’s Mugabe, My Dad & Me from September 9 to 18. His high-voltage one-man show charts the rise and fall of one of the most controversial politicians of the 20th century, Robert Mugabe, through the personal story of Tonderai’s family and his relationship with his father as he considers familial love, identity and what it means to be “home”.

Playwright (and pantomime dame to boot) Philip Meeks has history at York Theatre Royal in the form of Twinkle, Little Star, starring Nottingham Playhouse panto legend Kenneth Alan Taylor in the Studio in 2008  and the 2017 world premiere of Murder, Margaret and Me, his comedy-thriller of imagined meetings between crime novelist and playwright Agatha Christie and actress Margaret Rutherford.

Now Meeks will return with his stage adaptation of The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving’s 1820 tale of the Headless Horseman, from October 5 to 9, when Wendi Peters, from Coronation Street, and Bill Ward, from Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Before We Die, will lead the cast and Filipe J Carvalho will provide the stage illusions.

Director Jake Smith says: “Sleepy Hollow is undoubtedly one of the greatest horror stories ever written and a tour de force to stage. The production has at its heart the power of nomadic storytelling and gathering round the campfire for a good ghost story. It is an important story for now as we look at conversations around the identity of nations, communities and humankind throughout the world.”

Coronation Street alumni Wendi Peters and Bill Ward will star in Philip Meeks’s stage adaptation of The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow

Two familiar figures from the world of horror will put in appearances at the Haunted Season, albeit maybe not in the expected manner. Kings of comedy Le Navet Bete will sink their teeth into Dracula: The Bloody Truth on September 24 and 25, mixing slapstick with carefully crafted comedy and a healthy dose of things going wrong as the action moves from dark and sinister Transylvania to the “awkwardly charming seaside town of Whitby”.

From October 19 to 23, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective story The Hound Of The Baskervilles will be given a humorous overhaul in a Lotte Wakeham production where farce collides with theatrical invention and comic performances.

Pride And Prejudice’s most roguish gentleman, George Wickham, will seek to set the record straight when Adrian Lukis performs in Being Mr Wickham from October 14 to 16. Lukis, who played Mr Wickham in the BBC TV adaptation, will reveal what really happened with Darcy, how he felt about Lizzie and, of course, what happened at Waterloo.

Two dance companies will return to the Theatre Royal stage: Ballet Black on October 26 and Phoenix Dance Theatre on November 23 and 24.

The poster for the world premiere of Tonderai Munyevu’s Mugabe, My Dad & Me

Cassa Pancho’s Ballet Black Double Bill will feature Then And Now, wherein Will Tuckett blends classical ballet, poetry and music to explore ideas of home and belonging, and fellow Olivier Award-winning choreographer Mthuthuzeli November’s contemplation of the purpose of life in The Waiting Game.

Leeds company Phoenix Dance Theatre will be celebrating 40 Years Of Phoenix with a birthday programme of work by international and award-winning choreographers, including former artistic directors and collaborators.

Lorne Campbell’s new theatrical version of The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff will be performed by BBC Radio 2 Folk Award-winning trio The Young’uns – Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes – from October 28 to 30.

This protest-song celebration of northern working-class activism features songs from the original album, alongside new material and animation, in the true story of a young anti-fascist’s journey from poverty and unemployment in Stockton-on-Tees through the hunger marches of the 1930s, the mass trespass movement and the Battle of Cable Street, to fighting fascism in the Spanish Civil War.

Protest-song celebration of northern working-class activism The Young’uns in The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff. Picture: Pamela Raith

On October 11 and 12, English Touring Opera will return to the Theatre Royal with Handel’s Amadigi, based on a chivalric romance about three young people imprisoned by a sorceress.

From November 2 to 6, York Opera will present The Magic Flute, Mozart’s magical and last great opera, sung in English with an orchestra.

For younger audiences, Rod Campbell’s lift-the-flap book will leap off the page in Dear Zoo Live!, a show packed full of puppetry, songs and all the animals from the zoo, on September 28 and 29.

After The Love Season and upcoming Summer Of Love, The Haunted Season will be the third of York Theatre Royal’s mini-seasons since reopening on May 17. Tickets are on sale on 01904 623568 and at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

More Things To Do in York and beyond that Euro football tournament. It’s all kicking off in List No. 36, courtesy of The Press, York

What’s the pecking order here? Twirlywoos Live! at York Theatre Royal

EUROS 2020? What Euro 2020? The sun is out and so is Charles Hutchinson’s diary as he points you in the direction of curious CBeebies favourites, acoustic concerts, a dockyard Romeo & Juliet, a large painting, Clough v Leeds United and more ideas aplenty. 

Children’s show of the week: Twirlywoos Live!, York Theatre Royal, tomorrow at 1.30pm and 4pm; Saturday, Sunday, 10am and 2pm

TOODLOO, Great BigHoo, Chick and Peekaboo set sail for York on board their Big Red Boat for their Theatre Royal theatrical adventure Twirlywoos Live!.

Curious, inquisitive and eager to learn about the world, these small, bird-like characters from the CBeebies television factory will be brought to life with inventive puppetry, mischief, music and plenty of surprises.

Written by Zoe Bourn, the 55-minute show is recommended for ages 1+; babes in arms are welcome too. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Joshua Burnell: York prog-folk musician will perform in a Songs Under Skies double bill on June 14. Picture: Elly Lucas

Outdoor gigs of the week ahead: Songs Under Skies 2, National Centre for Early Music churchyard, York June 14 to 16

SONGS Under Skies returns to the NCEM’s glorious gardens at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York, for acoustic double bills by Katie Spencer and Joshua Burnell on June 14, Zak Ford and Alice Simmons, June 15, and Epilogues and Sunflower Thieves, June 16.

As with last September’s debut series, season two of the open-air, Covid-safe concerts is presented by the NCEM in tandem with The Crescent community venue, the Fulford Arms and the Music Venues Alliance.

Gates open at 6.30pm for each 7pm to 8.30pm concert with a 30-minute interval between sets. Tickets must be bought in advance, either in “pods” for family groups or as individuals at tickets.ncem.co.uk.

Art at large: Subterranea Nostalgia, by Corrina Rothwell

Biggest painting of the week award: Corrina Rothwell’s Subterranea Nostalgia, in The Cacophany Of Ages at Pyramid Gallery, York, until July 1

CORRINA Rothwell’s exhibition of abstract works features the largest canvas painting in the near-30 years that Terry Brett has run Pyramid Gallery in York.

“Subterranea Nostalgia measures 1600mm by 1600mm. That was fun, getting it upstairs!” says Terry, whose gallery is housed in a National Trust-owned 15th century building in Stonegate. “The painting has a real impact. If you know anyone with really big walls, it would be perfect for them!”

Nottingham artist Corrina favours mixed media and acrylic on canvas for the paintings, on show at Pyramid and online at pyramidgallery.com.

Not having a ball: Luke Dickson’s Brian Clough goes to hell and back in his 44 days in charge of Leeds United in Red Ladder Theatre Company’s The Damned United

Football, football, football, not on the box but in a theatre: Red Ladder Theatre Company in The Damned United, York Theatre Royal, June 16

THE choice is yours: Italy versus Switzerland at the Euro 2020 on ITV at 8pm or the inner workings of Brian Clough’s troubled mind at Elland Road in 1974 at York Theatre Royal, kick-off 7.30pm.

Adapted from Yorkshireman David Peace’s biographical novel by Anders Lustgarten, The Damned United is a psychodrama that deconstructs Old Big ‘Ead’s 44 days as manager of Leeds United, whose Don Revie-tutored players he despised as much as they loathed him.

The double act of Luke Dickson’s flawed Clough and David Chafer’s avuncular Peter Taylor are joined by Jamie Smelt as everyone else in a story of sweat and booze, fury and power struggles, demons and defeats.

That’s a good idea…

Festival of the month: York Festival of Ideas 2021, running until June 20

THIS year marks the tenth anniversary of York’s bright idea of a festival dedicated to educating, entertaining and inspiring.

Under the banner of Infinite Horizons to reflect the need to adapt to pandemic, the Festival of Ideas is presenting a diverse programme of more than 150 free online and in-person events.

The best idea, when needing more info on the world-class speakers, performances, family activities and walking trails, is to head to yorkfestivalofideas.com/2021/.

You kiss by the dock: Husband and wife Jordan Metcalfe and Laura Elsworthy as Romeo and Juliet in Hull Truck Theatre’s Romeo & Juliet at Hull’s former dry dock

Outdoor play outside York announcement of the month: Hull Truck Theatre in Romeo & Juliet, Stage@The Dock, Hull, July 15 to August 7

AFTER John Godber Company’s Moby Dick completes its run at the converted Hull dry dockyard this Saturday, next comes Hull Truck Theatre’s al-fresco staging of Shakespeare’s tragic love story.

The title roles in Romeo & Juliet will be played by Hull-born husband and wife Jordan Metcalfe and Laura Elsworthy, who appeared in The Hypocrite and The Last Testament Of Lillian Bilocca in 2017 as part of Hull’s year as UK City of Culture celebrations.

Metcalfe and Elsworthy, who married in the summer of 2018 after bonding when working on The Hypocrite, will play a stage couple for the first time, performing on a traverse stage to emphasise Verona’s divided society. Box office: hulltruck.co.uk.

Hitting the Heights: Lucy McCormick’s wild-haired Cathy in the Wise Children poster for Emma Rice’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights, bound for York Theatre Royal

Looking ahead to the autumn: Wise Children in Emma Rice’s Wuthering Heights, York Theatre Royal, November 8 to 20

EMMA Rice’s Wise Children company is teaming up with the National Theatre, York Theatre Royal and the Bristol Old Vic for her elemental stage adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Yorkshire moorland story of love, vengeance and redemption.

In an intoxicating revenge tragedy for our time shot through with music, dance, passion and hope, Rice’s company of performers and musicians will be led by Lucy McCormick’s Cathy.

“Emboldened and humbled by the enforced break, I feel truly lucky,” says Rice. “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.”

An Evening With Julian Norton, vet, author and now show host, is booked in for Pocklington Arts Centre

Veterinary appointment in 2022: An Evening With Julian Norton, Pocklington Arts Centre, January 18

JULIAN Norton, author, veterinary surgeon and star of Channel 5’s The Yorkshire Vet, will share amusing anecdotes from his work with animals in North Yorkshire, bringing to life all the drama and humour in the daily routine of a rural vet.

Following in the footsteps of James Herriot author Alf Wight, Norton has spent most of his working life in Thirsk. His latest book, All Creatures: Heart-warming Tales From A Yorkshire Vet, was published in March. Box office: pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

‘It’s time,’ says Emma Rice as Wise Children’s long-promised Wuthering Heights is confirmed for York Theatre Royal

The first poster for Wise Children’s Wuthering Heights, starring Lucy McCormick as Cathy. Picture: Hugo Glendinning

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.”

“I cannot wait to get back to doing what I love most,” says Wise Children artistic director Emma Rice

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).

Class act: Wise Children’s stage adaptation of Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers at York Theatre Royal in September 2019

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.”

Farewell, Kneehigh

“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.

Filmed at York Theatre Royal, Emma Rice’s Wise Children is streaming on BBC iPlayer

Showgirl memoirs: Katy Owen, left, Etta Murfitt and Gareth Snook in Wise Children. Pictures: Steven Tanner

YORK Theatre Royal’s co-production of Angela Carter’s Wise Children, made with Emma Rice’s company Wise Children and The Old Vic, is now available to stream on BBC iPlayer.

Adapted and directed by Rice, ever-innovative former artistic director of Cornish company Kneehigh Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe in London, the show marked the debut of her new Bristol company.

Wise Children was co-produced with The Old Vic, London, where the world premiere opened in 2018, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Oxford Playhouse and York Theatre Royal.

In March 2019, a performance of Rice’s exuberantly impish, musical vision of Carter’s last novel was filmed live at the York theatre with support from The Space.

The 138-minute play will be streamed for free for two months on BBC iPlayer as part Culture In Quarantine, the BBC’s arts and culture service to “keep the arts alive in people’s homes”. A screening on BBC 4 in May will be confirmed at a later date.

Billed as a big, bawdy tangle of theatrical joy and pain, Wise Children is a celebration of show business, family, forgiveness and hope as Nora and Dora Chance, twin chorus girls born and bred south of the river, celebrate their 70th birthday in Brixton.

Wise Children artistic director Emma Rice

Across the river in Chelsea, their father and greatest actor of his generation, Melchior Hazard, turns 100, on the same day. As does his twin brother Peregrine. If, in fact, he is still alive. And if, in truth, Melchior is their real father after all.

“When I set up Wise Children, I knew I would open with an adaptation of Wise Children after calling the company that name, presenting Angela Carter’s open love letter to theatre in all its aspects, its power and glories,” said Rice.

“I was a great fan of Angela Carter in my 20s. She has had a magical impact on people’s lives; she’s breath-taking in allowing the unimaginable to happen, so we fit together well!”

To create her adaptation, Rice read Carter’s novel, then wrote down the story or “what I remember of it”, she said. “I then started working on it with the actors, using their collective imaginations, so that they can pass on their own experiences in theatre.”

Rice has a track record for picking unconventional casts, typically so for Wise Children. “The actors I’m drawn to over and over again, and the way I tell stories, reflect how I always like to open up to diversity, expanding on my own experiences of humanity, especially in these polarised times, by looking at people who have had different experiences to your own,” she reasoned.

Against the 2019 backdrop of so much drabness, division, enmity and lost hope, Rice was determined to champion showbusiness, family, forgiveness and hope. “They represent a lot of my life,” she said. “When I talk of family, I mean not only blood family, but how we connect as humans.”

Emma Rice’s company Wise Children in Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers at York Theatre Royal last September

Now, Rice is delighted that Wise Children is being streamed from this week on BBC iPlayer amid the Coronavirus lockdown. “I dreamt about adapting Angela Carter’s Wise Children for years before it became a reality, and, when I finally did make it, it was the first piece I made for my new company,” she says.

“It’s a show I carry deep in my heart; a love letter to theatre, to survival, to family and family of choice. When The Space commissioned us to film it for the BBC, I almost burst with pride!

“I delight in the fact that we now get to share this glorious story with so many others, and hope that the fun, truth, love and generosity poured into it will find its way into sitting rooms across the country.”

Reflecting on Wise Children being part of the BBC’s Culture In Quarantine programming, Rice says: “What feels even more perfect is that we’re releasing it now. Today, more than ever, we need joy, resilience, hope and love of life, which runs through the veins of Wise Children. As Nora and Dora Chance tell us: ‘What a joy it is to dance and sing!’. Never has this been more true. We hope you enjoy.”

Last September, Rice and Wise Children returned to York Theatre Royal for a second co-production, Enid Blyton’s “original post-war Girl Power story, the naughty, nostalgic and perfect for now” Malory Towers: her “happy Lord Of The Flies”, as Rice called it.

Wise Children and the Theatre Royal are to complete a hattrick of collaborations in 2021, this time in tandem with the National Theatre for Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.

The butterfly effect: Emma Rice’s Wise Children company in Angela Carter’s Wise Children

Charles Hutchinson’s review of Wise Children at York Theatre Royal, March 2019. Copyright of The Press, York.

IMAGINE a Victorian vaudeville troupe or a circus travelling across Europe picking up performers, musicians, speciality acts, en route.

It would look not unlike Emma Rice’s new Wise Children company, set up since she left the artistic directorship of Shakespeare’s Globe and more in keeping with her 20 years leading Cornish company Kneehigh.

Do not take it the wrong way when I say Rice’s Wise Children are a modern-day freak show, not in the overt manner of the Circus of Horrors, but in how Rice celebrates, liberates and embraces beauty in all forms: a message for this age of Brexit intolerance for “outsiders” and fashion magazine photo-shopped “perfection”.

Vicki Mortimer’s design echoes circus in its lighting, while the set is dominated by a caravan, again recalling travelling troupes in Rice’s adaptation of Angela Carter’s last novel: a “celebration of showbusiness, family, forgiveness and hope” that receives a big, bold, bouncy, exuberant, darkly imaginative, saucy interpretation.

Opening on the 75th birthday of The Lucky Chances, Brixton showgirl twins Nora and Dora Chance, Rice’s hyper-production jumps around in time to tell their life story.

On the way she employs puppetry; glorious live music; theatrical in-jokes; old Bob Monkhouse and Max Miller gags; Shakespeare quotes; much mischief making, scabrous scandal and mistaken identities; men playing women, women playing men, and multiple versions of the same character at different ages.

Fabulous show, fabulous performers, fabulous butterflies too.