Fri 3 May

“…hugely entertaining and deeply profound in equal measure” Northanger Abbey

Ken Powell of Northern Arts Review, all things theatre in the North, reviews Northanger Abbey at Theatre by the Lake

Theatre by the Lake (TBTL) choose their productions carefully knowing they have a superb reputation for a number of things – including brilliant shows using only a handful of actors. This version of Northanger Abbey with a cast of just three is the latest in a long line of well-chosen productions.

All three actors are really strong performers as they take us through Jane Austen’s difficult novel. The result is very funny but also astonishingly deep.

Austen’s novel is well-known as being the most awkward of her works. Written first, in her youth, but not published until after her death, it is a hodgepodge of genres and ideas that lead some to consider it the weakest of her stories. Like productions such as Conrad’s Heart of Darkness then, such works need to help to make them work for a modern audience. Of course, TBTL knows how to do this very well; they excel at such re-thinks.

The story tells of a young country girl, Cath (played wonderfully by Rebecca Banatvala) who dreams of a romantic life such as she’s read in her many gothic novels. She’s a dreamer who is completely unready for social life in the town of Bath.

She gets her dream, but somehow very definitely doesn’t get it too.

Without giving spoilers, Zoe Cooper’s adaptation reads between the lines and alters some of the direction the various characters take, especially regarding the friendship between Cath and her best friend Iz (played with conviction by AK Golding).

This makes Austen’s work both more coherent and more relevant to today.

That said, the play still gives homage to the twists and turns of genres present in the novel. The first half is utterly hilarious with various characters played hilariously by AK Golding and Sam Newton. These two are incredible and worth the price of the ticket alone. Sam Newton, in particular, gives life-out-loud moments over and over again. The second half though, while still funny in many places, takes a darker turn as it explores the gothic themes of the original. It all gets considerably more serious. This might have flummoxed some audience members but most of us were mesmerised – and not a few shed some tears too. The result is, at the very least, intriguing, and on the whole, really rather special.

There are some adult themes more than alluded to in this production so this is not for the very young nor for traditionalists who don’t like books being ‘mucked about with’. For the rest of us, TBTL’s Northanger Abbey is hugely entertaining and deeply profound in equal measure. Go see it!

Northanger Abbey is showing at Theatre by the Lake until Friday 17 May 2024. To find out more call the Box Office on 017687 74411 or visit

To read more Northern Arts Reviews by Ken Powell.