by Jane Austen adapted by Tim Luscombe.

Theatre By The Lake Lakeside CA12 5DJ In rep to 5 November 2010.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat 8, 29 Sept, 20, 30 Oct 2pm.
Audio-described 8 Sept 2pm
Captioned 29 Sept 2pm.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.

TICKETS: 017687 74411.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 12 August.

Northanger Abbey remains a novel worth reading.
This evening was seemingly enjoyed by a capacity crowd around me, yet I wouldn’t sit through it again at any price – although everybody involved in has done an efficient job. Tim Luscombe’s adaptation is well-carpentered, and not over-stuffed, making good use of extracts from Maria Edgeworth’s gothic shocker The Mysteries of Udolpho, set in a pale lighting. It’s the book young Catherine Morland is eagerly reading, and clearly flavour of the age.

Ian Forrest directs skilfully on a stage he knows better than anyone else, making the most of the comic-thrilling possibilities when young Catherine and her fervid imagination arrive at the old pile of Northanger Abbey, delineating characters both there, in the sociable setting of Bath and all places else.

Designer Martin Johns sets the action forward on the Theatre By The Lake’s mainstage, dropping-in a Bath-scape and then the windows through which society views the city; windows whose arches become prominent at Northanger, its medieval mysteries more vague and mysterious in outline.

Though some of the doubling stretches some of the cast, there are several strong performances – Keswick veteran Stephen Ley combines immaculate physical and vocal technique with understanding of character; Andrew Grose ensures his booby and bully Thorpe goes beyond lies into a world of self-delusion where he believes the distortions he inflicts on truth to satisfy his self-image. And Vanessa Johnson, as his repeated victim, is a Catherine with sense and sensibility. There are other decent performances around.

But staging Jane Austen remains inescapably impossible, certainly in this tell-it-as-it-happens, essentially realistic mode. There are insufficient people to populate the nightly balls that run through the Bath scenes, especially with characters arriving late to join the dance after a quick-change from the previous scene or sneaking out early to prepare for the next.

Scenes remain fragmentary or disjointed, the amount of realistic surround varying with what’s available. With few sustained scenes, despite all the best endeavours, this looks like a novel caught between page and screen. Undoubtedly the former is its natural home, and a paperback copy costs a lot less than a ticket to the theatre.

Isabella Thorpe: Rebecca Elliot.
Eleanor Tilney/Emily St Aubert: Amy Ewbank.
John Thorpe/Count Morano: Andrew Grose.
Henry Tilney/Valancourt: James Hogg.
Catherine Morland: Vanessa Johnson.
General Tilney/St Aubert: Stephen Ley.
Mrs Allen/Mrs Morland/Alice Dorothy: Maggie Tagney.
James Morland/Frederick Tilney/Bridegroom: Christopher Webster.

Director: Ian Forrest.
Designer: Martin Johns.
Lighting: Nick Beadle.
Sound: Matt Hall.
Composer/Musical Director: Richard Atkinson.
Choreographer/Etiquette: Lorelei Lynn.
Dialect coach: Charmian Hoare.
Assistant director: Maria Papadima.
Assistant sound: Gary Giles.

2010-08-22 15:04:34

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