Today I went to two plays at The Attic Theatre, a small theatre at the very top of a three-story building, next to the River Avon. It is small (maybe) 75 seat venue with bench seating. The company was called Tread the Boards and they were performing two plays in repertory in that small space. When I first walked in, I noticed that the production value was low. Nothing wrong with that. For me it's about the acting and the story, anyways. The first show I saw was a recent adaption of Emily Brontës' Wuthering Heights. Now, I don't know the story very well, but I do know it's a love story and that it's a dark story. And that the love is almost haunted and insidious, it is like a wild, unquenchable fire of lifelong proportions. And to watch the two characters in questions, if I were to direct this play, would be like watching sex onstage. No nudity, just the connection. The connection and chemistry between those two characters, Cathy and Heathcliffe, must be thick with erotic energy. It should be something that everyone in that Victorian can feel, and it makes them terribly uncomfortable. That would be my goal. Personally. I realize that would be very difficult to achieve. Finding two actors with that much chemistry would be extremely difficult. This production did not achieve that. Cathy and Heathcliffe had very little chemistry. It was hard to watch because I knew I was supposed to believe they were in love, but I couldn't. It seemed as if the other actors were similarly disconnected. Not only that, but many of them were showing their character's ages, feelings and more, throughout. I was disappointed. I wonder why the director didn't notice it. I could definitely tell who had been trained and who hadn't. That's the drawback to being a "trained" actor. You are constantly analysing, noticing and thinking about what parts of a performance or technique you like and which you know to stay away from. Cathy, especially, was very expressive. The character that was coming across for me was a wild, rather insane, possibly bipolar woman who was almost animal-like in her actions and mannerisms, especially in her manias. Now, I saw the movie, once, a long time ago, and I honestly can't remember much of it, but I do not remember having such a strong reaction to Cathy in the movie. The way she was mentally unstable in this play was not the way I perceived the one in the movie. I would have remembered. Unfortunately, I have not read the book, which would be the primary source with which to discover this character, but as it is now I have only this performance. There are people who are bipolar, who swing from mania to depression rapidly, the way this actress chose to perform it. But when we pull everything away and focus on the text, we find out that she grew up with the freedom to run wild on the moors for as long as she wanted. She is free-spirited and strong-willed. Stubborn and passionate. She is fiercely independent and no one can tell her what to do. She seems to be doted upon by her father. When her father brings the orphaned, homeless Heathcliffe home, she befriends him immediately and they do together what she's been doing alone. They grow older and things grow are differently between them. They fall in love, profess their undying love for each other and then - . She is courted by a rich man and accepts his proposal. She wants to be rich. But in a scene right after she accepts the proposal, she goes to her maid and talks to her because she is painfully heartbroken because she chose money over love. Not only that, she chose money over the person she feels is her soulmate. That his and her souls are knit together, that they are one. The words in this scene are beautiful and I wish I could have enjoyed them in this scene, but I could not get past the delivery of the lines. The actress was playing a mentally disturbed woman, she was glancing around, speaking loud and then soft, playing a kind of insanity. At least that's how it came across to me. I did not believe her. I did not believe her any time she said that she loved Heathcliffe, but I suppose I need to move on. Later, I saw that scene in the following play Brontë and I believed it. More on that in the Brontë post.
I think part of it was that they were trying to do a cinematic play. Which MAY have been possible in a different theatre with a bigger budget, but with what they had it was too much. When you have a simple set in a small theatre, suit the word to the action, the action to the word. It's hard to bring the moors into an attic room. Find a way to tell the story with what you have. The moors are a very important part of Wuthering Heights, even a character, so they are absolutely necessary. This is a very difficult question. How to bring the moors into a small space? I don't know the answer. They used platforms to show the hills, and a very nice painting of the vast expanse behind. Platforms make me think of rehearsal. We use wood platforms in rehearsals. The platforms would move sometimes in the performance. Which automatically took you out of the action, if the running up the platform steps didn't already. Perhaps if there were no platforms, the space could have transformed more easily.
To sum it up, a few of the actors were good on their own. They were talented and played their parts well. The others simply didn't do it for me. And they all lacked chemistry. And the adaption was not the best. It could have simply been the way the actors delivered their lines, but I think a big part of the flow of the play has to do with the script. Perhaps it is the script that made it cinematic.
Reading this, you may think I did not enjoy myself. I did enjoy myself. I was able to analyse the play as nothing was keeping me in it. I was able to see everything for what it was and think about how I could do it differently, how I could (hopefully) make it better.