NORTHANGER ABBEY, SALISBURY PLAYHOUSE
CATHERINE'S 'fancy has trespassed', declares Henry Tilney. And indeed it has with far too much Udolpho. But what a delight Tim Luscombe's slick production is.A reworking of his own adaptation of Jane Austen's first, and shortest novel, the play acts as a reminder, if one were needed, of the author's ascerbic wit in her satire on popular fiction of the time.And Catherine Morland is a true 'heroine' in the Jane Austen mould. With no special advantages in terms of wealth, a very important factor in the marriage stakes, she has to find her own sense of self-worth. Burying her head in Mrs Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho is not going to help much.As fact and fiction blur for the naïve 17 year-old, a dose of reality is needed courtesy of the upstanding Henry Tilney.Eight interlocking doors on a stripped bare stage provide the set for eight actors to convey the tale, and indeed they do aided by some darkly atmospheric lighting courtesy of Hansjörg Schmidt and mesmerising choreography by Matthew Bugg, who also devised the music.The masterstroke of Tim Luscombe is actually interweaving the Gothic tale of Udolpho into the storyline with actors taking on their fictional characters. So Catherine on first seeing Henry, sees the dashing Valincourt. Of course, love must follow.Emma Hamilton is perfect as the coquettish and exploitative Isabella, particularly in the Bath scenes, where she and Catherine are sharing their fictional forays with squeals of excitement.Jenni Maitland in the central role of Catherine has a huge part, and is particularly good at evoking the young girl's wonder on arriving at the mysterious Northanger Abbey. The scene when Henry Tilney (played by Gregory Finnegan) is filling Catherine's head with tales of haunting is pure delight and a highlight of this production.Ben Righton is masterly in the dual role of sensible James Morland and rakish Captain Tilney and Helen Bradbury has a beautifully regal stage presence as Eleanor, poised and mature, a complete contrast to the skittish Catherine.Not forgetting Terry Taplin whose tyrannical and snobbish General Tilney was worthy of a 'bah hambug' or two. Northanger Abbey continues in the main house until Saturday, September 29 before embarking on a six venue national tour.