Cliff: not the full Bronte

MUSICAL 'Heathcliff', The Academy, Birmingham

Cliff Richard miscast as Heathcliff? Stuff and nonsense, say those of us who can remember thrilling to Perry Como's definitive Antichrist, Bonnie Langford's blood-freezing Medea and Max Bygraves's never-to-be- forgotten Titus Andronicus. No, this is a part that Cliff was destined to play.

It's not just that Wuthering Heights is the one novel he admits to having read, you have to consider, too, the nature of Bronte's hero. With all that stuff about the "eternal rocks" and the descriptions of Heathcliff as arid whinstone, you feel that it would take a geologist rather than a psychiatrist to straighten the character out. Now cast your mind back to the days when the pop star was still young Harry Webb. Of all the Christian names available to him, what did he choose? Call me old fashioned, but I say that's Freudian.

Cliff has been giving women hot flushes for almost four decades and you can't help thinking that for the bulk of his fan club nowadays, this is a case of taking coals to Newcastle. Sitting in an audience of close on 4,000 of them at the opening night, I felt outnumbered in a way that I haven't since I covered a lesbian version of Peter Pan at the Drill Hall. I'd certainly have felt more a part of the occasion if I'd been wearing a white pleated skirt and smart little navy jacket. On a television phone- in about the previous night's performance, devoted admirers said at length what you'd expect. The anchor person wondered whether there were any criticisms. One woman confessed that, in the climactic Heathcliff and Cathy scene, Cliff could perhaps "work on his passion". With respect to this lady, I think she's got it all wrong. The secret of Cliff's appeal is that his sexiness is utterly devoid of dangerous passion or threat. He's ageless, not in the sense that something perfect is faultless but in the sense that a vacuum is airless. His is a vacuum-packed innocence and I can understand the charm of it. Elvis he never was and, sure enough, he gives you the kind of Heathcliff who, if he had a bit of a shave and trim, a girl could happily take home to meet her mum. Or a boy: in his book Hockney On Hockney the painter recalls how, back in the Sixties, he pinned to the wall a newspaper clipping with the headline "Two Boys Cling To Cliff All Night". David, mate, dream on.

Just how likeable and un-dangerous Cliff is was best epitomised for me by the final line-up. As women rushed to the stage, the beaming cast linked hands and swayed happily while singing over and over "the Devil Incaa- ar-nate". The phrase comes from one of Tim Rice's lyrics: is Heathcliff "the Devil Incarnate or / a misunderstood man"? But for all they were concentrating on the dark meaning of the line, the cast might just as well have been singing "a pina colaa-a-da". SingalongaSatan. And as for the much-talked-about moment when Cliff has to hit a pregnant woman, there was an audible reaction, yes, but it struck me as registering surprise at the novelty of the thing (like first seeing members of the Royal Family on It's a Knockout) rather than the moral disorientation of, say, seeing Esther Rantzen child-beating.

I wouldn't want to run Cliff down, though - he has a very pleasant singing voice which is still in bloody good nick, given his age. Wooden he may be, and that transatlantic accent of his gets into a terrible state trying to do the Yorkshire accent ("I shall not stand to be laffed at"). But the bloke has what you can only describe as integrity. His utter palpable belief in this project may be misguided, but it's touching - particularly since most of the other elements in Frank Dunlop's awful production seem to be out to sabotage him.

High on this list comes John Farrar's music. When Bunuel filmed a version of Wuthering Heights, he used the chromatic excruciations and hot-house eroticism of Tristan und Isolde. You wouldn't expect such intensity from a musical, but you might expect something better than the vapid pop pap Farrar dishes up. Nowhere is it deployed with dramatic intelligence. Take the use of reprise, where remembered emotion can be played off the emotion of the current scene. At Heathcliff's wedding to Isabella, there's a tripping, stiff-kneed number whose whole personality sounds quite ludicrous when it's reprised in, of all places, the graveyard scene.

Computer projections give you all kinds of sky: tequila sunrise skies; revolving lashes of Turneresque streaky bacon skies, etc. One-third of these projections had not been used at the preview because of a shortage of technical rehearsal time and other mishaps. Reviewing this preview, the arts editor of The Times did not inform his readers (a) that it was a preview he was reviewing; (b) that the production was, at this stage, incomplete; or (c) that the people were none the less paying full price. But then, The Times is to journalism what Heathcliff is to art.

About to make his flower-laden final exit, Cliff came back, stooped to pick up a teddy bear that someone had thrown and charmingly held it up for us to see. Presented with a fluffy toy, Bronte's Heathcliff (who hangs Isabella's dog, for God's sake) would drive a stake through its heart. Cliff, you felt, would give it a good home.

At The Academy, Birmingham, to 2 Nov (booking: 0121 200 2222), then Edinburgh, Manchester and London

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
    Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

    Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

    Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests