Ross Balbuziente, Wuthering Heights

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Emily Bronte’s gothic story comes to life in this stirring, passionate performance by the Shake & Stir Theatre Co. Ross Balbuziente plays the darkly brooding Heathcliff – a character who has never failed to inspire strong emotions throughout the ages.This is a breathtaking production sure to leave people moved … And you can experience it for yourself at the Glasshouse.

Hi Ross. Tell us a bit about yourself … How did you become the Artistic Director at Shake & Stir Theatre Co?

I was one of the founding members of Shake & Stir back in 2006. It’s quite exciting in 2016, because the company celebrates its 10th anniversary. I’ve been a co-Artistic Director for that period with two colleagues, Nick Skubij and Nelle Lee.

We’ve been producing work in Brisbane and touring the country since 2006, and it’s a passion of ours to adapt classics for stage – it has always been a passion, and still is today.

Shake & Stir is well known for its skill in adapting literary classics into stage productions – for example, the company’s previous shows include Animal Farm and Dracula. Such challenging works – and Wuthering Heights is no exception! Why did you choose Emily Bronte’s classic as your most recent stage adaption?

At Shake & Stir, we’re suckers for a theatrical challenge! We never shy away from the challenge of bringing these iconic books to life on stage. They’re all favourites of ours at Shake & Stir … of course, we all have differences of opinions too, but we’ve been so fortunate over the past 10 years to have been able to bring to life some of our collective favourites. Wuthering Heights is right up there as one of our all-time favourites!

This book just lends itself so beautifully to a stage production, and this is why we were all so attracted to the idea … Emily Bronte’s descriptions in her novel are so evocative and translate so beautifully on stage – especially when you have an incredible design team led by a brilliant director. The whole team has achieved that atmosphere that Bronte discusses and refers to in her book on the stage …

How would you describe this atmosphere? Dark and gloomy?

Yes, dark and moody – but very modern in its aesthetic. Without giving too much away, I can confirm that we will be bringing all of the natural elements into the theatre. So yes … It gets hot, and it gets wet!

Thanks to large scale projections and the harmony between our lighting, sound, costume, projection and set designers, the whole production just works so beautifully to create a live atmosphere.

The place is actually another character in the book and in our production – so much of the novel refers to the windy, gusty, wet, tumultuous weather and the moors, and the characters are constantly trying to keep the outdoors from entering the indoors (and their lives); then what happens when the characters open the floodgates and literally go into that weather and that atmosphere … It’s such a contrast between being inside, warm and safe to being outside amongst the unpredictability of nature and its consequences. This has a knock on effect to one’s nature, one’s life, one’s relationships …

You also play Heathcliff in the production. He’s certainly a character who’s evoked strong feelings amongst readers – who either seem to love him or hate him. How do you view him as a character and a man?

Right from the get-go, the task was not to judge the character and not to play the end point of the character… Human nature is a very delicate thing; every action has a reaction, and we all act in certain ways because of a multitude of factors.

Poor Heathcliff has a bad rap from the start, but you have to get to know the guy to see why he has anger management issues (at the very least). My goal was not to judge the character, but to understand why he is how he is.

Not a lot is told about his character prior to meeting him, other than that he is homeless and impoverished before he was brought into the Earnshaw family. He had a very rough life at that point, and it really doesn’t get much easier for him. Mr Earnshaw passes away, and Heathcliff is treated to some very rough treatment at the hands of Hindley Earnshaw, who ultimately separates him from Cathy [Heathcliff’s love, and Hindley’s sister].

It just becomes a whirlwind of angst and revenge.

Has he been a challenging role for you to play?

Incredibly challenging – and mentally challenging, because you have to get to some pretty dark places to fill Heathcliff’s shoes.

It’s also challenging to do night after night, but it’s also very rewarding – and it certainly makes the glass of wine after the performance even more enjoyable!

It’s quite a small cast for this production; how have you found this works in terms of the story?

The beauty of the adaptation and the direction of this show is that the cast members also play the generations that follow their initial character. I only play one character, but you do see Heathcliff right from the time he’s a little boy until his ultimate demise. It’s a beautiful journey, playing his whole life.

Gemma Willing though, who plays Cathy Earnshaw, also plays the role of Catherine Linton [Cathy Earnshaw’s daughter]. It’s really lovely to see an actor play the parent of their child …

Nick Skubij plays Mr Earnshaw, Hindley, then Hareton so, three generations – grandfather, father, and son. Theatrically, it’s quite a lovely convention. It also makes the line of descendants clearer to understand.

Final words …

If you’re a fan of Wuthering Heights, you’re not going to be disappointed, because it’s a faithful adaption – but with a modern aesthetic. If you’ve never read the book, or the book terrified you, I encourage you to come along – because it’s really about all that juicy stuff we all love today with TV drama, movies and fiction.

Emily Bronte was really ahead of her time when it came to writing about family drama…

Thanks Ross.

Interview by Jo Atkins.

Photo courtesy of Dylan Evans

THE PLUG

See Wuthering Heights at the Glasshouse on 15th March at 8pm.
Tickets: $59; conc $54; member $49; under 25s $40.
Visit www.glasshouse.org.au or call the Box Office: 6581 8888.

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