A very reserved and slightly curious procession with a chest of objects to the stage heralded the opening of Box Tale Soup‘s adapted version of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, at The Broad Stage featuring handmade puppets and an almost exact dialog replication of the novel itself.
As shows accompanied by puppets go this one was no less charming, although much more quiet in temperament and delivery, than anything I’ve seen this year at the Broad or anywhere with any company in Los Angeles. Appropriate for all ages, it’s definitely more entertaining looking at it through a child’s eyes. And that is my suggestion: bring your children. And if you are attending as an adult on your own, go forth with an openness to sweetness and possibility.
Viewing at first was a bit difficult. The Edye is small and seating a bit less raked than I’d like, but that didn’t stop magic from happening throughout the evening.
It is classic storytelling with themes of conflict between marriage for love and marriage for property, the banality of partner selection, and life as fiction. But not to worry. As deep as that may sound, there is plenty more then just “rational happiness” and frustration to be experienced in this production. It is true love Edwardian style, absolutely darling with a little bit of self-made thriller thrown in.
Northanger Abbey, as a historical point of reference was the first of Jane Austen’s novels to be completed for publication, though she had previously made a start on Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. It tells the story of the young, naive and unlikely heroine Catherine Morland who starts off as a tomboy, grows up to be a pretty girl and has a particular fascination with Gothic novels and melodrama. She is introduced into Society at Bath by her wealthy neighbors where she falls in love quite spontaneously with a dashing Henry Tilney who always seems to be out of reach. Catherine, additionally, is thwarted at nearly every turn, by the wealth-hunting, spouse-chasing, brother and sister team, Isabella and John Thorpe, who befriend Catherine and her brother James, and keep her mostly occupied to their will until they discover that Catherine’s family is not as rich as they would prefer. But she manages to finally get an invitation from Tilney’s younger sister to visit Northanger Abbey where she secretly hopes for a romantic connection with Henry. It’s touch and go for Catherine who humorously and disastrously lets her overactive imagination get the best of her while visiting the Abbey. Mistaken assumptions on both sides, for a variety of reasons, end in her being abruptly sent home. But just when all her illusions of Tilney are shattered and her destiny sidetracked, he comes back with a rescue.
“Fate manages to throw a Hero in her path and all is well.”
Storytelling comes so much more alive when puppetry is involved and in the oddest way, closer to reality. And actors Antonia Christopher and Noel Byrne as they interact with and opposite their creations, are delightful in every way.
The length of this production and the lack of a much needed pause or intermission, are the only decided drawbacks. I found myself fidgeting (luckily way in the back where no one could be disturbed by my restlessness) for a quicker ending. But as all was well with our story, so was it with the world and the play.
It’s still a recommend.