Five puppets on stands line the stage and a suitcase. Two actors step out and begin ceremoniously constructing the props, drawing our focus to the modest creations: a candelabra of slotted cardboard for example, the flames alone given a coat of colour. The puppets too are minimally decorated, but with brilliant detail like cardboard shaving curls, ribbon, lace trim dresses and book-page lapels. This costume is also sported by the actors and gives the show a childish but charming style, much like the character of Catherine Morland, our unlikely heroine.
With Northanger Abbey originally a parody of the gothic novel, Box Tale Soup have embraced the humour and made it their own, playing up Catherine's 'silly woman who reads novels' stereotype, accompanying each opening of 'Mysteries of Udolpho' with ominous musical accompaniment and a ravenous reader. The many paper mache faces bring a sense of the fairytale to the play, much assisting in absorbing us into Catherine's wild imaginings, which eventually lead her astray in the Abbey itself. The actors, man and woman, play primarily the roles of Catherine and her suitor Henry Tilney, while all other characters take the form of puppets, giving the impression that the reality of love is what brings Catherine to her senses.
For those unfamiliar with Austen's first novel, this production would be an excellent way to familiarise yourself. The play succeeds in condensing the tale without losing its heart and maintains a pace that is entirely engaging without rushing or dragging us through an entire novel.
It is also incredibly playful. A carriage ride with the rather disagreeable John Thorpe is demonstrated by actor and puppet bouncing along on the suitcase, one straining away from the other. Some aspects of the book, such as the General's overbearing character, are exaggerated visually with his large and looming puppet portrayal. Others, such as the note in the chest, is unaltered and performed to wonderful effect. The acting is seamless and the set up entirely unpretentious. Taking a beautiful and inventive approach to the classic story, this is a gorgeous piece.