THE Regency fashion for “Gothick” novels, with looming castles, endless dark forests, evil barons, mysterious foreigners and hapless maidens, inspired Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.
In the hands of the mistress of English social comedy, the story gets a clever spin as most of the horrors are strictly in the imagination of the spirited heroine, Catherine Morland, aided and abetted by her calculating friend, Isabella Thorpe.
Salisbury’s Studio Theatre chose Tim Luscombe’s clever adaptation of this brilliant novel for the May show, providing some great roles for the talented younger members of the company, as well as experienced older actors, including Colin Hayman as the fearsome General Tilney and Jo Flindell as both Catherine’s mother and the family friend Mrs Allen.
The wide-eyed excitement and imagination of the central character, Catherine, is beautifully captured by Laura Melville, who had a real chemistry with Kris Hamilton’s Henry Tilney, Madeleine Ellis is the flirtatious and spiteful Isabella Thorpe, Cassia Woolley conveyes the intelligence of Henry’s sister Eleanor, who is bullied by their father, and Charlie Thomas is perfect as Isabella’s rambunctious brother John.
The adaptation uses readings from The Castle of Udolpho, Catherine’s favourite novel, to tell the audience what is going on in the over-heated imagination of the impressionable Catherine, away from her country home for the first time.
As always with Studio Theatre, there is a simple set, an elegant evocation of a Regency room, with clever use of projections and lighting to move the action to the outside scenes, streets in Bath, the Assembly Rooms, the woods near Northanger Abbey, the Abbey itself and Catherine’s home in Dorset.
Director Linda Hayman, supported as always by Studio Theatre’s excellent costume, set design and props teams, ensures that the styles and etiquette of Regency behaviour are subtly but accurately conveyed.