Have you ever walked down rows of bookshelves, and imagined the characters they contain stepping from the pages? Have you brushed your fingers along their spines, and imagined their stories permeating through your fingertips? Have you ever dreamed of being locked overnight in a library, and hearing their voices whisper in the dead quiet?
If you have ever even idly felt an inkling of any one of these fantasies, Oh Heroine How I Love You will feel like a waking dream, for in the quiet of sleeping libraries all over London, Callie Nestleroth and Sara Page are bringing the enigmatic heroine of Wuthering Heights, Cathy, to life in their newly devised piece.
Oh Heroine How I Love You has been designed and directed by Nestleroth to take place in and around library spaces. Normally quiet and locked up by this time in the evening, just being here feels quietly rebellious – especially when we are invited to talk above a whisper.
On this night in Holborn Library, Cathy, played with unbounded dexterity by Page, floats down from the upper levels on a waft of piano, birdsong, and the gentle hum of cars. The sounds we are hearing as we wait and flick through copies of the Bronte’s works, which have been beautifully and lovingly modified with illustrations and miniature folded paper artworks, were recorded in Bronte country itself. These sounds are just the beginning of the immersive experience that unfolds, as Cathy descends and makes a game of the uncovering of the contents of her basket. There is a special connection that arises in the handling of the books followed by the objects. The tactile nature of the books connects us with our previous experience as a reader, which is then transformed fluidly into the experience of a participant in the story. Oh Heroine… makes a private reading experience, and not just the story itself, into a performance.
…makes a private reading experience, and not just the story itself, into a performance.
As participants in the uncovering of this character of Cathy, each audience member is invited to read a little of the story, of her story particularly. For those like me who have not read the book in many years this serves as a refresher, but this too would be a magical way to discover Wuthering Heights for the first time. Although just as a preface, her story is told beginning to end… so, naturally, spoilers!
The enchanting participatory re-telling of Cathy’s story could be a piece of theatre in itself, but in Heroine… it is just the beginning. Cathy is so much more than the word on the page . She is a heroine, a legend, an icon! She is who we make her, a product of our imaginations, and through 90s dance routines, soul-searching singing, poignant original music and searching conversations, bit by bit, Heroine’s… dimensions of the nature of Cathy (and subsequently a little of Emily Bronte herself) are revealed.
…a heroine, a legend, an icon!
The depth of critical literary analysis Nestleroth has brought to the performance through recording interviews and instigating discussions (such as on critical observations on the interpretive limitations of Cathy’s constructed speech) is on a par with the level of deep feeling Page’s musical and dramatic performances provokes. Yet neither seeks to be astute. They remain open, searching, questioning. Come prepared to be open to discussion and in the process, pieces of yourself and your fellow audiences members will become a part of the piece’s revelatory journey, too.
The richness in the layering of dramatic and discursive forms in Heroine… simply cannot be overstated. If you thought there was no greater pleasure than reading this classic text, I would urge you to experience this piece of work and think again! By far the biggest objection of any reader to a book adaptation to the stage or screen is that it can never be just how you imagined. The beauty of Heroine… is that it encourages you to summon your own imagination, to explore and even challenge your own assumptions or perspectives.
Heroine… encourages you to summon your own imagination.
The real beauty of Heroine… is in its lingering resonance. The very nature of the piece acknowledges it to be an open interpretation, a part of a legacy that it further acknowledges will continue to fluctuate as it lives on. Page’s incarnation of Cathy disappears back up those stairs, but we are free to pick up Wuthering Heights (or simply play the Kate Bush song) and discover again this heroine’s elusive spirit for ourselves.