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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA

Playful and surprising re-imagining of Jane Austen’s popular novel Northanger Abbey at the Octagon


Review by Hilary Dawes


Written by Zoe Cooper and directed by Tessa Walker, this production is a playful and surprising re-imagining of Jane Austen’s popular novel Northanger Abbey. 


Catherine Morland knows little of the world, but her vivid imagination enables her to envisage one of romance and excitement through the gothic novels she devours.   She longs to escape from her family and drab northern town and mingle with the smart set at parties and balls. 


After the comic depiction of Catherine’s birth, and witnessing her progression into womanhood, we find Catherine, at 17 years old, invited to spend time in Bath with her aunt and uncle, the Allens, and her wish for balls and parties begins to be fulfilled.  At one such gathering she meets Isabella, (Iz).  A closeness develops between them and whilst Jane Austen’s heroine delights in finding a new best friend with whom to share a love of novels, clothes etc,  Zoe Cooper shows us a developing attachment, turning to implicit sexual attraction, although only a kiss is seen here.  


The action moves at an energetic pace, going in many directions, which is sometimes hard to follow and, whilst the play is a re-imagining of the Austen novel, it might be helpful to already have an idea of the original plot.  A talented cast of just three actors manage to portray every character, often at astonishing speed.  Whilst Rebecca Banatvala sticks mainly to the role of wide-eyed ingénue Catherine Morland, AK Golding, as the attractive and worldly-wise Iz, also gives credible performances of Catherine’s pipe-smoking and harrumphing father, her uncle Mr Allen and General Tilney.  Sam Newton plays Henry Tilney and Iz’s unsavoury brother John Thorpe, and gives a hilarious portrayal of Mrs Morland  enacting Catherine’s difficult birth, as well as playing the aspirational Mrs Allen and Henry’s sister Ellie, a role he clearly relishes, in a pink dress, creepy haircut and air of menace, completely living up to Catherine’s gothic expectations of Northanger Abbey! 


Designer Hannah Sibai’s minimal set uses very few props, with piled up trunks serving as  carriages,  a table doubling as a bed, and Catherine’s wonder at the sight of Northanger Abbey being witnessed as a model of the abbey is produced from a trunk.  A magnificent moving chandelier evokes the grand décor and atmosphere of the Bath venues. 


Running until 23rd March 2024

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