Wuthering Heights, the latest theatrical experience from Emma Rice and her new company, Wise Children, received glowing reviews from audiences and critics alike in England and New York. It arrives at Berkeley Rep Nov. 18, continuing the theater’s tradition of offering audiences decidedly different holiday fare.
Known for imbuing her creations with virtuosity, wonder and whimsy, Rice has become one of Berkeley Rep’s most popular visiting artists with shows like 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, Tristan & Yseult and The Wilde Bride.
“My friends in Berkeley will love this elemental and emotional retelling” of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Rice said. “It’s packed full of my signature humor, music and theatrical magic — but it also bristles with hidden rage.”
The Victorian-era novel centers on the passionate, ill-fated and death-transcending romance between Heathcliff, orphaned as a child on the streets of Liverpool, and Catherine, whose upper-class father took Heathcliff in. When Rice re-read the novel in 2016, she saw in the story themes of female repression, mental health and even the refugee crises. She found it “a cautionary tale about what happens if you do not treat others, and certainly the most vulnerable, with kindness and care.” It was also important to her that the show end on a hopeful note.
In her Wuthering Heights, Catherine and Heathcliff are like rock stars, “destructive, wild and their internal rage is flipped out.” The music ranges from modern British folk to pure punk. Actors/dancers embody the windy Yorkshire moors, creating a chorus that guides the characters. The scenic design juxtaposes natural elements like trees and brambles with video that conveys the vastness of the landscape. Nearly all of the scenic pieces and costumes are reclaimed and repurposed because, “It’s a book about the environment. We decided we wanted to be environmentally conscious.”
If you don’t know Bronte, don’t worry. You’ll be fine. “I think we’ve done quite a good job of making it very fresh, very accessible, but also really honoring the text,” Rice said. Hear more from Rice here.
Wise Children’s Wuthering Heights runs Nov. 18 through Jan. 1 at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre at 2015 Addison St. Run time is approximately three hours with an intermission. For ticket information contact the box office at 510-647-2949 Tuesday through Sunday, noon-7 p.m. or visit Berkeley Rep’s website.