Annabelle Terry as Isabella and Eva Feiller as Catherine Morland
Two hundred years after its first publication, Jane Austen’s Gothic homage is given a reboot by the Bury St Edmunds Theatre Company under the direction of Karen Simpson using Tim Luscombe’s adaptation. Veteran Simpson has masterminded the revival of The Theatre Royal in Bury boosting crowds with vibrant crowd pleasing productions, amongst them Northanger Abbey. Luscombe’s credentials gained with his two other Austen adaptations, Persuasion and Mansfield Park, augered well for this one.
Of course 19th Century Goth and 21st Century Goth are somewhat different, then it equalled Eliza Parsons and Francis Lathom, now it equals Evanescence and Sisters of Mercy. Luscombe strips away the peripheral sub plots to concentrate on some fairly familiar themes; the melodrama surrounding the lives of the idle rich juxtaposed with the fantasy excitement of Goth drama, the idealism of marrying for love rather than money, the dangers of living a fantasy, loss of innocence, and the specious illusion of the believable.
A utilitarian, sparse, but effective three arch set, designed by Dawn Allsopp provides a universal backdrop as Bath or Northanger Abbey without too much stretch of imagination.
The opening neatly establishes the blurred lines between the imaginary and real as our heroine Catherine plays out scenes from Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho – her contemporary reference work for love and passion in the absence of Google and the Cosmopolitan problems page.
Eva Feiler is superb as Catherine, growing from a foolish, impressionable, gullible and naïve youngster to a woman who can stand on her own two feet with the help of the suave and gallant Henry (Harry Livingstone) heir to the eponymous Northanger Abbey. Her earlier attempt to integrate herself with the sophisticated and worldly wise rogues of Regency Bath entertain with a touch of the Eliza Doolittle’s about her performance.
The condensed story, reduced to eight characters, shifts emphasis from light comedy to farce at times, demanding a high level of acting characterisation, however the tired “man dressed as a woman gag” for the early dance scene was a bit hammy for my tastes .Joe Parker relishes his bad boy role as John Thorpe. Joseph Tweedale is busy as he doubles as both Catherine’s brother, James, and Henry’s brother, Frederick.
Annabelle Terry flourishes as the flirtatious, manipulative Isabella, and has the best dresses of the evening. Jonathan Hansler convinces as Harry’s father and owner of Northanger.
A good adaptation, and a must-see for all Jane Austen fans. The shorter second half works better than the first which wallows just a little too self-indulgently in trivia and ephemera. After the interval the script shifts up a gear, as does the company , and races to a conclusion with the ending an unwelcome interruption to some fine drama. Runs till Wednesday 12th and continues on tour.