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Jane Austen's Classic Gothic Satire Still Going Strong
Whatever life may be like in 200 years time it is not too hard to imagine that the theatre companies of the future may still be performing Jane Austen's classic romantic story. It is exactly two centuries since the death of Ms Austen, and the subsequent posthumous publication of her novel, Northanger Abbey. And, judging by this wonderful new adaptation of her work, Northanger Abbey clearly remains a timeless masterpiece that will be delighting new audiences during a UK tour that has just begun at the Lichfield Garrick theatre.
Annabelle Terry as Isabella, Emma Ballantine as Eleanor, Jonathan Hasler as General Tilney, Harry Livingstone as Henry and Eva Feiler as Catherine
Northanger Abbey, which only went into print after Miss Austen's death in 1817 despite being sold to a publisher almost 15 years earlier, was intended as a satire of the Gothic novels that were immensely popular at the time. This new production from Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, which staged the play from February 2 to 11 prior to its national tour, loses none of that wonderful bitingly humorous feel, almost bordering on the farcical at times.
Isabella (Annabelle Terry) and Catherine (Eva Feiler) pore over The Mysteries of Udolpho
Northanger Abbey, which is being performed at the Lichfield Garrick from February 13 to 15, tells the story of Catherine Morland, an unworldly 17-year-old girl from a comfortable village background who dreams of living the life of the romantic heroes and blushing heroines she finds in the pages of her favourite novels. She is then taken by her aunt and uncle to Bath to meet the social elite in a sort of coming-of-age vacation. But Catherine so longs for the books of her childhood to mirror real life that she increasingly finds it difficult to separate one from the other as reality an fiction become entwined.
Eva Feiler as Catherine, Emma Ballantine as Eleanor and Jonathan Hansler as General Tilney
Catherine gradually finds herself the focus of attention of two contrasting men - one with genuine romance in his heart and the other, a clear cad with apparent designs on the wealth he believes she may one day inherit. And, while all this is playing out on stage, Catherine and her new friend Isabella Thorpe are besotted with events in their favourite novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, which sees members of the cast also appearing as characters from the book as passages are read out.
Harry Livingstone as Henry and Eva Feiler as Catherine
Eva Feiler is truly outstanding as the delightful, warm-hearted Catherine in as good a performance I have seen on the stage. With the help of splendid costumes and convincing scenery she thoroughly excels in Tim Luscombe's adaptation as the sweet-natured girl who finds herself having to grow up and face reality. But there isn't so much as an average performance in the entire play with the rest of the eight-strong cast all performing superbly, particularly where more than character - real or imagined - is involved.
Joe Parker (John Thorpe), Harry Livingstone (Henry), Jonathan Hansler (General), Eva Feiler (Catherine) and Emma Ballantine (Eleanor)
They include Harry Livingstone and Emma Ballantine as brother and sister Henry and Eleanor Tilney who reside with their overbearing father (Jonathan Hansler) in the Northanger Abbey of the title. And there are also splendid performances by Annabelle Terry as Isabella and Joe Parker as her boorish brother John Thorpe, while Hilary Tones and Joseph Tweedale both cope exceedingly well in the dual roles of Catherine's aunt and mother, and Catherine and Henry's brother.
Performances of Northanger Abbey continue at Lichfield Garrick until Wednesday 15 February with tickets priced from £21 for adults and £20 for students available online or by calling the Box Office on 01543 412121.
Rating: 5 stars
UK Tour Dates
Feb 13 - 15 Lichfield Garrick
Feb 20 - 22 Devonshire Park Theatre Eastbourne
Mar 8 - 11 The Haymarket Basingstoke
Mar 14 - 18 Theatr Clwyd Mold
Mar 20 - 25 Theatre Royal Windsor