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One of the UK’s leading stage and film actresses comes to Dorset this week as the lynchpin in one of classic literature’s most tortured and classic romances.
Susannah York, the star of They Shoot Horses Don’t They?, Superman and many television and stage triumphs, stars as Nellie Dean in Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s stunning adaptation of Wuthering Heights.
Set on the wild, windswept Yorkshire moors, Emily Bronte’s tale is the tempestuous story of free-spirited Catherine and the dark, brooding Heathcliff.
As children running wild and free on the moors, Cathy and Heathcliff are inseparable. As they grow up their affection deepens into a passionate love, but Cathy lets her head rule her heart as she chooses to marry the wealthy Edgar Linton. Heathcliff flees broken-hearted only to return seeking terrible vengeance on those he holds responsible, with tragic results.
The tale is told in retrospect by Cathy’s devoted housekeeper Ellen ‘Nellie’ Dean to a Mr Lockwood, who has moved into the area and wants to know about its dark past.
“I based her on a Scottish nanny I once knew,” said Susannah. “She was very plain speaking and brisk, but at the same time very supportive and interested in human nature. I built a back story for her, for myself. She is called Mrs Dean so she probably married young, maybe to a brutal husband. She does make some reference to her life in the play, she says that Heathcliff is not the worst husband a woman could have.
“She is like a Baboushka figure who has devoted her life to one family. Maybe she was the oldest daughter in the family and had to look after the other children, and that way of life stayed with her.”
The role of tempestuous Cathy is taken by Amanda Ryan whose credits include Shameless, Patrick Marber's Closer with the National Theatre and Shekhar Kapur's film Elizabeth. Heathcliff is performed by Antony Byrne whose theatre credits include the title roles in Macbeth and in Henry VIII.
The cast also includes Simon Coates as Lockwood, Toby Dantzic as Edgar and Linton, Edmund Kingsley as Hindley and Hareton, David Whitworth as Joseph) Victoria Yeates (Frances) and Emma Noakes (Isabella).
Susannah added: “The play is going well. It is a big show and audiences are very receptive. They are all ages, from young children through to teenagers and above. I think the story appeals to all sorts of people.”
Wuthering Heights is at the Lighthouse in Poole from today until Saturday, October 25. Performances are at 7.30pm with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2.30. Tickets are £17.50 evening performances and £12.50 for the matinees. (Ruth Meech)