THEATRE

'Art' has it all: a starry cast, an imaginative script, and Sean Connery as a producer. 'Heathcliff', meanwhile, has only Sir Cliff
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The Independent Culture
Which passage in Wuthering Heights was it, you wonder, that gave Sir Cliff Richard the idea he would be right as Heathcliff? Was it the "half-civilised ferocity", the "eyes full of black fire" or the "arid wilderness" of this "fierce, pitiless, wolfish man"? For Heathcliff, which has lyrics by Tim Rice and music by John Farrar, and opened this week in Birmingham at the start of a six-month tour, marks the fulfilment of the most implausible ambition in showbiz. Although he receives no credit, one can only assume the guiding spirit behind this pounds 3.5m extravaganza was not so much Emily Bronte as Mel Brooks.

Shoulder-length hair, designer stubble, a swirling cloak, semaphoric gestures, a brisk walk and an occasional growl: welcome to New Heathcliff, or, in the words of the first number, "A Misunderstood Man". This is Cliff first, and Heathcliff, a long, long way after. When he takes a swipe at his wife (and misses) a gasp of demure shock runs round the 4,500 seats of the Indoor Arena. Cliff is the first leading actor I've seen flick his hair winningly in the middle of a fight. It isn't just Cliff's legendary niceness or celibacy that makes his Heathcliff so hard to take. It's his dapper professionalism. This immaculate singer - with his light, warm, controlled voice - never lets emotional turmoil get in the way of a perfectly rendered number. Only at the end, when he leads the reprise, does Cliff look happy; and for a few moments you see what it is that he does best. RB

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