As dusk fell over the tall pines of Rendlesham Forest, the stage lights provided a sinister glow to the players’ faces in the low evening sun, and as the first lines of the performance echoed around the quiet of the forest, it was apparent that this would be a play quite like no other.
|Hindley threatens to shoot Heathcliff|
The forest setting, though very different from the novels' Yorkshire moors, added a fitting bleakness to the play. The stage itself, a small section of grassed forest area, aptly resembled a cemetery, with the future headstones of the main characters reflecting the tragedy of Emily Bronte’s novel.
I had wondered just how the novel would transpose to stage, and was pleasantly surprised to find that a cocktail of narrative, soliloquy, folk music and a hint of rock and roll proved a perfect mix in conveying the tale to the vast audience sitting on deck chairs and eating their picnics.
|The audience watches from deckchairs|
The Red Rose Chain actors and stagehands are all young, and their obvious talent shone through in this performance. Joanna Carrick as Nelly provides a narrative throughout the play, with injections of wicked humour and delightful affection for the other characters and Camilla Finch’s Cathy has the mischief of a tyrannical child and the heartfelt despair of a distraught lover.
Indeed, every one of the actors gave an astounding performance and Jimmy Grimes captured the essence of Heathcliff with a performance I have yet to see matched in a small production. Not only did he show the menacing selfishness of the hero, but was perfectly tender and humbled as Cathy’s soulmate.
The company has been in operation since 2000 and specialises in working with young people, aiming to challenge attitudes and raise aspirations. With great performances like this, and the creative use of environment and staging, it is easy to see why Red Rose Chain attract such large audiences.