Northanger Abbey review at the Warren, Brighton – ‘charm aplenty’
“Jane Austen with puppets” is one of those high concept pitches that will repel as many people as it attracts, and anyone who likes their fringe theatre edgy and raw might find this Box Tale Soup production a little bland. But for those willing to be persuaded, this show has charm aplenty.
The sheer artistry alone is impressive: the company devise the piece and make the puppets and props themselves – primarily out of paper, which gives them a pleasingly retro feel. Performers Antonia Christophers and Noel Byrne deftly switch between their narrating and acting duties and operating seven puppets, never missing a beat in a show as tightly choreographed as a Regency ball dance. More crucially, as romantic leads Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney, they bring warmth and tangible chemistry to their roles, so this never feels like simply a technical exercise.
The source material itself is arguably Austen’s weakest, lacking some of the sharpness of her best known work, and the production is more likely to elicit wry chuckles and amused smiles than outright laughter, though there are some smart, funny sight gags when Catherine finally arrives at the abbey. But director Robert Soulsby-Smith ensures the pace never sags and there’s enough genuine heart to keep you rooting for the central pair.