THEUCy McCormick’s live performances involve surfing through the naked crowd and pulling objects out of various orifices. So when the sensation Edinburgh Fringe was introduced as one of literature’s greatest heroines, Cathy, in a new stage version of The Wuthering Heights, people had questions.
âA lot of people kept telling me, ‘Oh, are you going to sing this song? The Kate Bush song?’ Laughs McCormick, whose daring and implausible solo shows often involve singing. “I was like, ‘Uh, no. That would be really creepy. It’s a legitimate acting job.
The casting makes sense. In her live shows, the actress and performance artist is wild, cheeky and defiant – unlike her softer, more vulnerable real self, as she chats like a lost friend from her London apartment in Woolwich. Her first genre-defying solo show, the 2016 hit Edinburgh Fringe Triple threat, was a gendered New Testament account. She played all of the characters, including Jesus, recreating the patriarchal history of religion through a female point of view.
In the subversive pop concert Life: Live! – Battersea Arts Center’s first post-containment show in July – she was Lucy Muck, an aspiring narcissistic pop star performing at a Britney Spears-style stadium on a shoestring budget. In Popular message, another sold-out Fringe show in 2019 and a hit at the Soho Theater the following year, she performed X-rated versions of historic women, portraying the beheading of Anne Boleyn by squirting ketchup on her neck and singing “The First Cut is the Deepest”.
“Sometimes people call my job ‘crazy’,” says McCormick, who had a small waitress role in 2019 Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, and played a topless protest singer in BBC One’s This time with Alan Partridge earlier this year. âWell for me shows mean a lot more than real life. It is all confusing and strange. And it’s like I’m trying to figure it out. The shows have become a space in which she can “be in charge, [and] actually be pretty good at it â. âWhich is a very different space and a different feeling than what I have felt a lot in life. I felt like I had a lot of anxiety. I just struggled to fit into life as it was dictated to me.
This is why it relates to the tragic heroine of Emily Bronte. âWhat Cathy is going through is basically a nervous breakdown,â she explains. âI have always been drawn to tragic characters. In my shows I try to understand the tragedy of life and do it through comedy.
Emma Rice’s production opens at the Bristol Old Vic later this month ahead of a tour of the National Theater. McCormick describes it as “brilliantly camp and theatrical … drama with a capital ‘D’.” There is a big intersection, she adds, with her own work – “balancing the tragic and the comic and finding some form of irreverence.”
She tries not to think too much about the famous role – and instead, bring herself to it. âThe character is really a lesson in pent-up emotion,â she explains, âand lying to yourself, and having too much pride.â Cathy betrays herself and Heathcliff by marrying Edgar Linton – although she knows Heathcliff is her “soul mate”, as McCormick puts it. âIt is also true, of course, that she is trapped in a patriarchal system. And she feels she doesn’t really have much of a choice. But it was interesting to me that she didn’t repent of a lot of really horrible behavior.
McCormick, who says she could give me â100 different examples of how I sort of struggled with life and mental health,â can relate to Cathy’s depression. One incident in particular stands out: the actor had a “very strange” and “physical” reaction to his father’s death from terminal cancer in 2014.
âI became a little obsessed with my own health,â she said, looking puzzled at her own behavior, âand I started going to the hospital obsessively. I would pretty much pack a bag because I thought when I got there they would say, “Oh my God, get her to the ER now.” And it was the least useful way to get through someone else’s terminal illness. It was the most egocentric and selfish way to deal with this crisis. “
On her “hospital tour” – where she demanded that they do her “internal scans” – everyone kept saying everything was fine with her. “Until a doctor recognizes that it could be more of a psychological problem than a physical one.”
She calls it “catastrophic” – imagining the worst possible scenario she could think of, “which was having to tell my parents, who are going through this, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m dying too. ‘”
Did she receive therapy? âYeah, I’ve had loads of therapy. Not that it means anything. I think everyone should be in therapy, really.
McCormick began doing dark, comedic shows when she was in college, studying drama at the East 15 Drama School at the University of Essex. She was a member of the performance art group Getinthebackofthevan, including much of the Soho Theater show in 2015. Number 1, the place she passed smeared with fake droppings – as a metaphor for dealing with shit. A few years before Triple threat, she had performed in nightclubs, queer clubs and in the performing arts community. She got the part of Cathy after Rice saw her play Lucy Muck in the cabaret show. Effigies of wickedness at the Gate Theater in 2018 and invited her to a five-day workshop at the National Theater Studio.
But McCormick’s insecurity was such that she was shocked when she realized she was the only one in contention to land the lead role. “I had heard that Emma was kind of forward thinking sometimes, so I really thought there had to be five Cathys or something,” she laughs. âBut that’s also something very cool about Emma. If she loves someone and thinks they have something to contribute, she seems to really follow her instincts and trust him as her. ‘interpreter.
Rice was controversially fired from Shakespeare’s Globe in 2018 for being too unconventional with Bard’s plays, and launched her own company, Wise Children, that same year; his stage production of the critically acclaimed film Baghdad Coffee was a triumph at the Bristol Old Vic this summer. The Wuthering Heights is Rice’s fifth production: it’s all sung, danced, but “very inspired by the times”, says McCormick, with an ensemble playing the Yorkshire moors “like a Greek choir”.
Expect McCormick to have a quirky moment when she embarks on a rock song, “Look Up.” This takes place at the time of Cathy’s famous speech: âI am Heathcliff! Regardless of what our souls are, his and mine are the same.
“She’s struggling with the decision she made [to marry Linton]Says McCormick. âIt looks like this exorcism. And then it comes back in history and in the genre of quieter music.
McCormick spent confinement wondering, “My God, do I have a career left? And “Is there going to be something to come back to?” It’s always a concern for her to know how this is all going to play out. ” No one really knows. The job we do is to have a large group of people in a room together, often in very close quarters. And that’s just a fact. “
But it forced the actor to branch out. She is currently writing for television – “trying to figure out how to translate my shows on television”. Who knows? Lucy Muck could be a star after all.
‘Wuthering Heights’ opens at Bristol Old Vic on October 20, with previews from October 11. It tours at the York Theater Royal, November 9-20, and takes place at the National Theater in February and March 2022, before a tour of the United Kingdom.