DramaReviewSouth West

Northanger Abbey – Exeter Northcott

Writer:  Jane Austen

Adaptor: Tim Luscombe

Director: Karen Simpson

Reviewer: Joan Phillips

Austen’s satire of the Gothic romances popular during her lifetime, parody the heroes and heroines of their original author’s imagination. Austen’s writing was produced as a light-hearted version of these stories to entertain her family and friends, but Tim Luscombe’s adaptation gives it a full comic transfusion to produce a very funny stage show.

Catherine Morland (Eva Feiler) is a young impressionable teenager who spends too much time reading Gothic romances and not enough time learning from real life around her. Luscombe starts cleverly by intertwining events in the main storyline with scenes from Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho – the main source of guidance the young Catherine uses for insight into love and passion. The confused state of the young girl’s mind, as we see her barely able to differentiate fact from fantasy, is quickly established and the audience, at first, suitably disorientated.

From here we follow Catherine’s mistakes and heartaches as she grows from the young naïve girl at the beginning of the story. At first, she naively navigates her way around the rogues and intriguers of Bath society. He gauche attempts to acquire the finely tuned balances of Regency etiquette and manners produce some very funny moments. Finally, with the assistance of the inevitable romantic interest, Henry Tilney, the son of the owner of Northanger Abbey, she eventually lays aside Udolpho as her guide to life.

Casting for this production is superb. Feiler manages the tricky balance of playing the earnestly naïve Catherine but keeps us sympathetic. Harry Livingstone as Tilney is suitably dashing. Joe Parker has a great evening raising his eyebrow as the arrogantly wicked John Thorpe. While Annabelle Terry is perfect as the flirtatious and flakey Isabella. Jonathan Hansler twitches imperiously as the owner of Northanger, while Hilary Tones plays the self-obsessed, but kindly, Mrs Allen. Joseph Tweedale is charming as both Catherine’s brother, James, and Henry’s brother, Frederick, Emma Ballantine completes the cast as the demure and kindly Eleanor.  Sharp direction kept the pace of the witty quick-fire exchanges and the tight script delivered the humour, but this cast lifted it off the page and made the comedy fizz.

Dawn Allsopp’s simple, but dramatically effective, set is dominated by three huge arched windows – perfect for a Gothic abbey, the Assembly or Pump Rooms in Bath. A few mobile benches are moved around to differentiate scenes or act as props. The cast imaginatively re-enact the busy Bath Society season by frequent references to being pushed or having their hair dislodged, despite there being just eight of them for all the parts,

If there are faults these are caused by the stripped-down nature of this, otherwise, successful adaptation. With so much to get through, but concentrating only on the main characters, this version relies on a dialogue heavy script. Some interchanges can feel rushed and the whole could benefit from more variety of scene and pace. With little scope for change in pace, the rather longer first half, set only in Bath, suffers as a consequence. But it is great fun to witness Austen’s light-hearted comedy transformed into a full comic farce.

Runs until 6 April 2017 | Image: Contributed

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Great Fun

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The Southwest team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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