Tue 7 May

Northanger Abbey ‘a refreshing new look at an Austen novel’

From the novel by Jane Austen comes a play by Zoe Cooper that brings 21st century humour and gender politics to the original early 19th century text, writes Karen Morley-Chesworth.

With interaction with the audience, breaking down the fourth wall as well as a number of taboos that would have made Miss Austen blush, this production opens with lively style.

Rebecca Banatvala as Cath, the heroin of this and her own story commands the piece with gusto. Banatvala is the powerhouse of this production, which is anything but your expected adaptation of an Austen novel.

AK Golding and Sam Newton play a number of different roles that create Cath’s world – her parents, the neighbours who take her to Bath for the season and the first love of her life, Hen and her new found female friend Iz.

Cath escapes from her quiet, normal northern village life through novels, so she seeks to write her own future – with travel and adventure. The story follows Cath from her childhood joy, playing with her brothers, to the young woman seeking something different and exciting for her life.

The script is amusing, and the strong cast deliver the lines in a way that maximises the humour and playfulness of this play.

The play moves at a pace and has numerous comical highlights. Director, Tessa Walker has excelled herself with this production.

Newton when he plays Cath’s mother at her birth is particularly funny. Golding as Cath’s clergyman father is also very amusing.

The trio of actors bring something new to the stage.

The play follows the plot of the original Northanger Abbey, with season balls in Bath, romance and flirting between the young, and the not so young.

The gothic element of the novel is there in with Cath’s visit to the Northanger Abbey of the title. And the eternal manic desire of the teenage to find true love – in reality or virtually through reading romances, it at the heart of this play.

The interchanging of male and female roles between Golding and Newton, appears to question the idea of gender and traditional roles. The idea of the female relationships in the novel as sexual, and the hiding of their love behind planned unhappy marriages of convenience was left unresolved. This is a very imaginative play, however the ending come suddenly and without resolution for me.

This is a beautiful and very funny production, and a refreshing new look at an Austen novel, but I was left wondering what the playwright was wanting us to see. It has left me wanting to go back and read the original novel again, to see where the inspiration for the new elements have come from.

When you reimagine a classic story to the point you can’t recognise the original, would it not be better to imagine new players?

There were many Austen aficionados in the theatre who were a little confused. This isn’t Jane Austen, but it is entertaining, and tells an old story in a new, modern way.

Reviewer: Karen Morley-Chesworth

Reviewed: 4th May 2024

North West End UK Rating:

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