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Northanger Abbey

Updated: May 3

Zoe Cooper, from Jane Austen's novel

Bolton Octagon, Orange Tree Theatre, Stephen Joseph Theatre and Theatre by the Lake co-production

Bolton Octagon,

March 1-23, 2024; 2hrs 15min

(also Stephen Joseph Theatre, March 27-April 13, Theatre by the Lake April 27-May 17

(L-R) A K Golding, Rebecca Banatvala and Sam Newton in Northanger Abbey. All pics: Pamela Raith
(L-R) A K Golding, Rebecca Banatvala and Sam Newton in Northanger Abbey. All pics: Pamela Raith

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A Punch cartoon shows a bonneted Jane Austen facing a stern publisher with the caption: "I like the plot,

but this effing and blinding will have to go".

This production of Northanger Abbey shows how that original might have read. Writer Zoe Cooper, working with director Tessa Walker, has provided a current take on the friendship between two women –Catherine, (Rebecca Banatvala) and Isabella (A K Golding). As there are male characters in the book they also need a man (Sam Newton). But as it’s a contemporary take, he plays mostly female characters. In a dress.

Once this is all clear, the play continues briskly, helped by having the round Octagon stage as the main set, with the actors dressing themselves in a variety of costumes to play all the characters. This is a real test of acting ability that they – mostly – pass with flying skirts and jackets.

You will know that an Austen novel has one purpose only; to end up with the heroine marrying the hero. This was her first novel, so it's slightly different: almost a happy ending, but with varied protagonists for the final chapter. In fact not quite the happy ending we all yearn for. Bitter-sweet, in fact, which reflects the views of the writer. Zoe Cooper clearly empathises with the characters, having also felt out of place in posh cities like Bath.

Which leads to the real purpose of her play; to put on stage how two young women find a sort of happiness despite the men around them.

There are highlights: one of which is the splendidly athletic dancing scene, with a real feel of how the original participants may have felt. To have a serious conversation while moving in a complex, changing

pattern must be intellectually and physically challenging, and the need to change voice and clothes to meet the needs of new characters reveals the talent of the cast members.

So visit the splendid Octagon for a generally pleasing evening, in which "speeches put into heroes mouths... must be invention. And invention is what delights me in books".

More info and tickets here


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