Jane Austen’s satirical novel, itself a pastiche of recognisable and well-worn tropes of the Gothic literary genre, is here given new life by company Box Tale Soup, consisting of performers Antonia Christophers and Noel Byrne. In surely one of the most charming and inventive examples of fundamentally well-crafted storytelling of the Fringe, Austen’s characters are given animation by a slick cast of hand-made puppets, ably assisted by their human helpers.
There is nothing particularly new here regarding the language: the magic is in how it is presented
Much in keeping with the nature of Austen’s ostentatiously manufactured original, the company has created a stage space bearing all the hallmarks of something man-made and artificial – there is absolutely no ambition towards naturalism or in presenting reality here. Even before the play begins in earnest, Box Tale Soup’s fine attention to detail is revealed through the unity of artistic vision, which sees the motif of pages of Austen’s text adorning both the set and the costumes of both performers and puppets. Building on this respectful nod to the original author, it is a treat for Austen fans to swiftly realise that the adaptation stays very faithful to the words of the novel itself. There is nothing particularly new here regarding the language: the magic is in how it is presented.
And there is surely magic indeed. Predominantly taking on the roles of the lead characters Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney, Christophers and Byrne delight with heightened mannerisms and expression. Their interpersonal interactions capture the benevolent mockery present within the writing, and we are able to warm to the gently burgeoning relationship without difficulty. We also become very familiar with the figures of such characters as John (Jack) and Isabella Thorpe and the redoubtable Mrs Allen – all of whom are simply yet effectively distinguished by means of the vocal versatility of the two performers. These voices, coupled with the proficient handling of the puppets, ensure that we look forward to each re-emergence of the characters.
Into the second half of the piece, the text’s Gothic elements come to the fore, and Christophers’ portrayal of Morland’s increasingly euphoric trepidation is a comedic joy. The well-read viewer will luxuriate in the literary references, with Morland certainly showing her somewhat untamed nature befitting her name, continual references to Ann Radcliffe’s Gothic classic The Mysteries of Udolpho, the array of lamps, doors, locks and bad weather associated with Northanger Abbey itself, and even a quiet nod (see if you can hear it!) to a famous line from Wuthering Heights. Northanger Abbey will be one of your Festival highlights and is a prime example of beautifully imaginative storytelling.