wuthering heightsSometimes we read to escape ourselves. But, more often, we read ourselves into the novel and the novel into ourselves. We place its narrative alongside our own, and we measure the characters we find on the page against our own identities. Wuthering Heights translates this process onto the stage.

This production is about the intersection between reader and text, performer and character. It begins with the four actors introducing themselves to the audience – and they never allow us to forget that the character’s body is also the actor’s. Nick Anderson, for instance, plays Heathcliff’s horse, and accordingly begins pacing round the stage on all fours. At intervals, the group form up as a carriage and canter around the stage, increasingly sweating and panting. By the end of the exhausting hour, we’re as much aware of witnessing the journeys of four men on a stage as we are the four characters in a fictional narrative.

It’s quickly obvious that the production is not really an adaptation of Wuthering Heights, but a personal response to it – one of the many Wuthering Heights’s that lie nascent in the text, spawned when brought into contact with individual readers. This company’s principal focus is masculinity: they split open the faultlines of the story and inject their own anxieties inside. This takes many forms, but climaxes in an episode where Gary Gardiner (who largely plays Heathcliff) directs Peter McMaster to deliver his anguished roar of “Come in! Come in! Cathy, do come!” Once McMaster has been pushed to his limit, the dynamic reverses and Gardiner stands, facing a barrage of questions from “Do you like yourself?” to “When are you most vulnerable?”. He stands and stares, as the mood shifts from interrogation to stoic compassion, the company ending the barrage with an embrace. Gardiner is Heathcliff, and every man, and utterly himself.

This male reading can’t speak for all readers and generates some potentially problematic repercussions – not least the place of femininity in the production. Early on, McMaster and Peter Lannon strip naked before putting on dresses to take the roles of two women. This signals less the divestment of masculinity and more the relocation of it; there’s always the spectre of the cock, haunting the contours of the dress. The colonisation of the women’s bodies isn’t hidden here – it remains as a reminder of the invasiveness of reading and performing, the incursion of placing yourself in the body of another person.

Wuthering Heights is brave and fierce. It’s an invitation to intimacy: arduous, compassionate and truly rewarding.

Wuthering Heights played at Summerhall (Venue 26) as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. For more information, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.