Blog: Andrew Sheridan

The playwright turns his pen to a love letter to Emily Brontë

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“Are you interested in adapting Wuthering Heights into a play?” A question I never imagined I would have been asked.

My fleeting connections with WH were:

1. Blagging to my English teacher that I’d read it when in truth I just hadn’t.

2. Desperately trying to get off with the fittest girl at drama school who did a mint Kate Bush karaoke cover.

Other than that, I thought it was just a wishy-washy romantic classic about two people who fell in love and argued a bit. Classic.

So, when I was asked by Bryony Shanahan (pictured left, next to me in blue) and the Royal Exchange to adapt it my first response was: “I’m not sure you’re talking to the right person.” But I read it. I read it again. I read it over and over. And my head nearly fell off.

It’s such a darkly complex novel. Not the bonnets and bustles I had mistakenly perceived it as, but a story of primal human nature, eternal emotional resonances, and bleakness and ugliness cascading through a prism of beautiful struggles and richly wrought characters. It cracked me inside. It found a way in and built a nest. And it’s lived there ever since.

Of course, it’s a story about two iconic characters. The mysterious and mercurial Heathcliff and the equally revolutionary and proto-feminist Cathy. Two sides of the same coin. Two characters that can’t be separated through time immemorial.

But for me the book was about more than the story itself.

It has felt like she has been standing behind me for the last three years

I have read it over 20 times now. A necessity and a beautiful curse in equal measure. Each time I think the book will be the same as the last time I picked it up and leafed the well-worn and toddler-graffitied pages. But each time shocks me more than the last. It illuminates different elements of the story, it triggers different feelings deep down inside, and shines a light on different characters with a ferocity and a clarity that is truly blinding. I don’t know why this comes as a great surprise to me. Of course it does. It’s why Emily Brontë is Emily Brontë. It’s why the book is revered and cossetted by its legion of fans. It’s why I have become infatuated by Emily Brontë. It has felt like she has been standing behind me for the last three years. Not judging me for the inferior shadow I cast in her wake, but gently and reassuringly touching me on the shoulder.

The play is a testament to the story but it’s also a celebration of her spirit and soul, her loneliness and vulnerability. If the play manages to light a single candle in her memory, then I think I’ve done my job.

The last three years have been a special time getting to know her and the story she wrote, and as rehearsals speed by and an audience await, I feel her hand slowly lifting from my shoulder.

I’ll miss my newfound friend. Though I’m not sure she’ll ever leave me. Not really.

I love you, Emily, and this is my love letter to you that I never got to send.

I hope it finds you well.


Wuthering Heights is the Royal Exchange, 7 Feb-7 March

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