Northanger Abbey

Theatre

Underbelly, Cowgate

5th-28th Aug (not 16th)

11.40 am 

****

 In this, Jane Austen’s first published novel, our teenage heroine Catherine Morland dreams of romance and thrills hitherto outwith her ken.  She has devoured any number of Gothic novels, but has no experience of the world outside the village in which she grew up: when she is invited to accompany family friends, the Allens, to Bath, she is overjoyed.  Once there, she makes the acquaintance of the charming Henry Tilney and, later, his sister Eleanor, and of Isabella Thorpe and her brother John, himself a friend of Catherine’s brother.  Catherine is pleased to have found friends in Bath, but desolated to learn that the Tilneys are leaving bath for home.  Her tears soon turn to joy when she receives an invitation to accompany them – and her cup overflows when she discovers that, of all the types of accommodation they might occupy, they are the fortunate inhabitants of Northanger Abbey.  Her imagination goes into overdrive, and she pictures incidents of delicious terror: but the reality is somewhat different….

 

Box Tale Soup do a brilliant job of introducing what some might dismiss as a dry and boring text into something alive, active, and relevant to today.  Noel and Antonia’s facial expressions, body language and vocal skills bring the whole cast to life: not simply Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland, but the seven puppets they use to create the other characters, endowing them with life and individuality.  The audience were engaged from the start, and laughs were plentiful, frequent, beginning less than a minute into the performance.  Jane wrote the piece as a satire on the then contemporary fascination with gothic horror novels: she would have been proud of the way N & A brought her witty satire to life, pointing out the need to distinguish between fantasy and reality while never sacrificing textual accuracy for cheap laughs…

 

What was brilliant?  The actors’ total involvement with whichever characters they portrayed at any given time, their voices, gestures and movement totally in character, giving a wordless portrait of the empty-headedness of Mrs Allen, the vacuous simpering of Isabella Thorpe and the total self-obsession of her boastful brother: the fluidity with which puppets and their characters were passed from one actor to the other; their clever and sparing use of music to heighten the drama; Henry Tilney’s delight in winding up Catherine during their drive to Northanger, and Catherine’s transformation from thrill-seeking girl to self-aware and serious young woman: I could go on and on, as moment after moment brought new delights.

 

The audience were fully involved in the story, alive to the nuances of voice and gesture, and appreciative of the simple but effective props [especially the window!] – brought out from their travelling trunk, which also doubles up as the many vehicles they use.  The laughs were plentiful, and the applause prolonged.

 

If anyone wants an engaging and memorable first foray into Austen, look no further: if you are a lover of Jane’s work, beat a path to Box Tale Soup’s door!

 Mary Woodward