DOT Productions at Brentwood Theatre
Some discussion among the party in row F as to whether this was to be a murder mystery or a love story. Comedy of manners, it turned out, with the accent on the comedy.
Bryan Johnston's light-hearted, ingenious re-working of Jane Austen's first novel is given a lively outing – first date of a six week tour.
An energetic young company of six actors take on ten roles, against a simple set in which the Regency windows of Bath are replaced by the stained glass of the Abbey.
Anya Hamilton plays our heroine, the pale bookworm whose innocence is tested by the social minefields of Bath society and by the imagined Gothic terrors of the Tilney's family seat.
Two suitors vie for her hand – Andrew Lindfield's hearty Thorpe, bragging about his horse, and Adam Elliott's witty Tilney, mercilessly teasing Miss Morland about the Gothic novel. Elliott also steals a scene or two as Tarquin, Thorpe's long-suffering horse, and even momentarily portrays Dorothy, the ancient retainer, in the literary parody.
Victoria Tyrrell is Tilney's sister, the reluctant chatelaine of Northanger, as well as Catherine's mother and a vivacious Isabella Thorpe.
The Allens, country folk of Fullerton, are played by Roslyn Ure, resplendent in a galleon of a dress and a quiz of a hat, and Leigh Stevenson, who also makes the most of Mrs Thorpe, long lost friend of Mr Allen's wife.
Craig Gilbert's production is finely paced, colourfully if eccentrically costumed, with many inventive touches: the Rank gong at the start, the deception and disappointment from Chapter 11 neatly done in two seconds, and the cast not only arranging their own minimal furniture between scenes – excellently done – but also accompanying their manoeuvres with lively a cappella music.