Review: Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen, adapted by Tim Luscombe, Bury Theatre Royal, until February 11, then New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, May 2-6
- Credit: Archant
Two hundred years after her death, the acutely observed social commentaries penned by Jane Austen continue to delight and entertain, as demonstrated by the joyful staging of Austen’s Gothic novel satire Northanger Abbey at the Bury Theatre Royal.
Adapted with wit and style by Tim Luscombe and directed with grace and pace by Karen Simpson, this feisty production captured the essence of the novel while refusing to get bogged down in the fine detail which so often derails many stage adaptations of novels.
Tim Luscombe is intimately acquainted with the work and world of Jane Austen having adapted Mansfield Park at Bury three years ago. He manages to draw strong, bold characters which the eight actors can gleefully claim and make their own.
Northanger Abbey is one of Austen’s most overtly comic novels, written as a parody of the over-the-top Gothic adventure novels that were all the rage in the 18th century. The story is played out through the eyes and overactive imagination of Catherine Morland, engagingly portrayed by Eva Feiler, who, on a journey to Bath, imagines herself caught up in a bandit-infested trip to an ancient ruined castle.
Once in Bath she soon makes friends with Isabella Thorpe, played by Annabelle Terry – who reveals Isabella’s knowing guile, and finds herself receiving the unwanted attentions of Isabella’s self-serving brother John Thorpe (Joe Parker). This is particularly irksome as it is clear that she has set her bonnet at the young parson Henry Tilney (Harry Livingstone).
However, it is only when Catherine accepts the Tilney’s invitation to their home at Northanger Abbey that Catherine’s fertile imagination goes into overdrive.
Karen Simpson keeps the action moving at a fierce pace. Tim Luscombe has written the adaptation as a series of short-scenes which dovetail into one another which gives the play a filmic quality. This effect is heightened by Karen’s decision to play the sequences lifted from Catherine’s overwrought imagination as extracts from a silent film.
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The stylised panels, lit with a variety of effects, along with the moveable seats, trunks and boxes means that the story unfolds seamlessly keeping the audience both laughing and perched on the edge of their seat.
The ensemble nature of the production and the high quality of the performances makes it rather invidious to single out individual actors for praise but Eva Feiler as Catherine, Emma Ballatine as Eleanor Tilney and Annabelle Terry as Isabella managed to create a beautifully drawn dynamic as three friends with hidden strengths and motivations.
The only downside was that a few of the dances looked a little tight on space on the Theatre Royal stage but I am sure as the run continues this minor point will get ironed out. A hugely enjoyable evening and the Georgian Theatre Royal is a terrific place to see work by one of the greatest writers of the Georgian age. A total joy.