REVIEW: Northanger Abbey, Salisbury Playhouse

Jenni Maitland and Emma Hamilton as Catherine and Isabella in Northanger Abbey

Jenni Maitland and Emma Hamilton as Catherine and Isabella in Northanger Abbey

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Tim Luscombe, who directs his own adaptation of Jane Austen's novel Northanger Abbey, at Salisbury Playhouse, has risen to the challenge of staging the play with only eight actors, of whom only Jenni Maitland, as Catherine, has a single role.

Excellent performances are enhanced by Hansjorg Schmidt's skilful use of lighting and Colin Falconer's deceptively simple set, which relies on eight doors and has impressive Gothic arches for the Abbey scenes.

Matthew Bugg designed the music and movement, which contribute so greatly to the seamless progress of the play. The sunlit picnic, with birdsong, on Beechen Cliff, contrasts delightfully with dramatic scenes that take the audience into Catherine's wild imagination, fuelled by her obsession with Mrs Radcliffe's thrilling novels. Characters spring from the page as she reads - and it is all immensely entertaining.

Jenni Maitland is charming as the naive, impressionable Catherine, sampling late 18th century Bath society under the guidance of Mrs Allen (Christine Cox - who also gives a fine portrayal of Catherine's mother).

Emma Hamilton plays the scheming Isabella Thorpe, who with her brother John (Dominic Gerrard), quickly befriends Catherine. Gregory Finnegan is the young clergyman Henry Tilney, with whom Catherine falls in love. Ben Righton is his philandering brother, Captain Frederick Tilney, and Helen Bradbury is their lovely sister, Eleanor. Terry Taplin, as their father, the General, is splendid as the Abbey's owner to whom money means more than happiness.

Northanger Abbey is at Salisbury until September 29, at the start of a national tour.

Stella Taylor

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