Wuthering Heights @ Lyric Hammersmith, London

cast list
Adeel Akhtar, Shammi Aulakh, Pushpinder Chani, Rina Fatania, Anil Kumar, Divian Ladwa, Sheena Patel, Youkti Patel, Davina Perera, Gary Pillai, Amith Rahman

directed by
Kristine Landon-Smith
“Bronte goes to Bollywood in an irresistible new musical”. So says the blurb for Tamasha’s new staging of Emily Bronte’s classic novel.

But such a statement is practically defamatory. There is hardly any of the powerful, magnetic, brutal, passionate darkness of Bronte’s raw writing left in this misguided production.

The new concept by Deepak Verma decimates most of the novel’s appeal.The attempt at recreating the feel of Bollywood on stage also falls short and there is little sense of the style, energy, magic and majesty of those films at their best.

Verma has transplanted the story from the Yorkshire Moors to nineteenth century Rajasthan.
Shakuntala is our Catherine, the headstrong daughter of a good and adequately wealthy man who falls in love with a street urchin that her father brings home.

This is Krishan, our Heathcliff. They grow up as brother and sister but it is clear that there is something else between them. However, Shakuntala is drawn by the riches and opulent lifestyle of freshly enamoured local ruler, Vijay, and find herself suddenly caught between love and duty, between the two men.

The bare bones of the story remain in place but that is sadly where the similarities end. The storytelling is literally skeletal. There is no flesh on this frame; characters are underdeveloped, one-dimensional cogs working to move the story along. Consequently there is a near total disengagement from any of the relationships happening on stage let alone the central love affairs.

Bronte’s astute psychological insight has been replaced with paper-thin portraiture. Though the recommended minimum age for audience members is eight years old, I suspect it would be a struggle to keep anyone so young awake through this.

The performances, although generally decent, err towards the hammy at times. Some Bonne humeur is provided by Rina Fatania’s Nelly Dean; her sass and charm come as a relief.

Director Kristine Landon-Smith might have remedied this with some spectacular staging. But as there are only 11 cast members, who are required to double up on roles, at no point do you feel convinced by the sweeping ‘Bollywood’ atmosphere that is being attempted.

The music (which is mimed to pre-recorded tracks in Bollwood fashion) also fails to save it. The tedium of the melodies recalls Lloyd Webber at his worst, but also it cries out for variety, passion, energy. Lyrics by Felix Cross are Manilow-esque, “She walks across the sand, like she’s floating on air” and full of irritatingly predictable rhymes. There are no memorable numbers here.

Where the production does impress is in Sue Mayes’s design, which is impressively suggestive of the desert, the jungle heat and the heavy, oppressive skies. The costumes too are well conceived but, like so many aspects of this production, there are disappointments. The great sandstorm seems to be the work of a single stagehand with a domestic fan and a broken smoke machine. The use of a giant stuffed toy to signify a resting camel is, sadly, one of the few images that stuck.

There are some moments of brightness, but they are few and far between in a production that does a disservice to both Bronte and Bollywood and proves to be entirely resistable.

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