REVIEW: Witty take on Austen classic in the open air in Leamington

Balancing melodrama with satire: Northanger Abbey
Balancing melodrama with satire: Northanger Abbey
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Nick Le Mesurier reviews Northanger Abbey, presented by Heartbreak Productions in Jephson Gardens, Leamington

Less a play within a play than a parody of a parody, Heartbreak’s Northanger Abbey is a witty if sometimes slightly strained adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic spoof.

The premise for this adventure into Gothic Romance is Jane Austen’s Writers Group, consisting of such luminaries as William Wordsworth, Mary Shelly, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, plus lesser known figures Bertie Masterson, writer of ghastly novels, and Thomas Moore, unsung poet. Together they cook up the story of Catherine Morland (Samantha Moorhouse), who enters fashionable Georgian society with a head full of Gothic novels. Under the tutelage of Mrs Allen (Benjamin Baeza) and the irrepressible Isabella Thorpe (Georgina Scott), Catherine falls for the dashingly handsome Henry Tilney (David John Hubball), but suffers the unwanted attentions of Isabella’s ne’er do well brother John (Matthew Cooper). The story leads, of course, to Northanger Abbey, General Tilney’s (Benjamin Bruckshaw) stately pile which, while it doesn’t hold the Gothic secrets Catherine expects, holds others of a more uplifting kind.

Dani Carbery’s comic adaptation steers just this side of mockery, and for the most part manages to balance the melodrama with the satire. The cast take up many different roles, and as ever Heartbreak’s stage craft and use of audience participation is exemplary. There were times the play dwelt too much on the social scene in Regency Bath, and I was glad when we got to Northanger Abbey, where the real action began. The performance received a strong thumbs’ up from the audience, helping to get Heartbreak’s massive summer tour off to a fine start.

* Northanger Abbey continues tonight (Thursday June 15) at Jephson Gardens before touring the country. Visit www.heartbreakproductions.co.uk to book or for more information.