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.”
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.
“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.
“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.