Last week I went along to one of the shows on Penlee Park Theatre’s summer programme. I saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream last summer and was pleased to be invited back to review a production of my choice.
I picked Heartbreak Productions’ Northanger Abbey as I’m a big Jane Austen fan and have been interested to see a stage adaptation. Unfortunately, despite shows usually going ahead regardless of the weather, the outdoor theatre became rather water-logged a couple of weeks ago and so events have moved to St Johns Church on Chapel Street, with outdoor screenings moving to the Acorn Theatre. For me, a large part of the enjoyment of a Penlee production is in the location and the atmosphere it creates, but I tried not to let that affect my experience of Northanger Abbey.
For those of you not familiar with the original story, it centres on Catherine, who accompanies a family friend on a trip to Bath, where she meets the mysterious Mr Tilney. A fan of gothic literature, she allows her imagination to get the best of her when she is invited to his family home, Northanger Abbey, and, in true Austen fashion, one misunderstanding leads to another…
I wasn’t aware before I arrived that this wasn’t just an adaptation of Northanger Abbey – it was a ‘writer’s workshop’, with the actors also playing some of literature’s greatest writers, including Jane Austen, and we were expected to get involved. Eek! I’m not a fan of audience participation and did my best to avoid eye contact. I’ve got to hand it to Matthew Cooper though, as he did a great job of making it not feel too cringey and got all members of the audience involved.
When we arrived we were asked to write an opening line to a poem or story based on an item we had with us that inspired us. Not gonna lie, my friend snuck in some Prosecco (to a church no less!) and so I wrote the following:
Only one other group wrote something and they were read out at the start of the second half. The other writer took it a lot more seriously than me.
Anyhoo, back to the production itself. During the interval I earwigged on a conversation where one of the cast members said that they normally perform outdoors and the staging had to be scaled back for the change of location. I think I would have had a bit more fun had it been outdoors but it was an enthusiastic performance and there were a hell of a lot of lines to learn, especially for star of the show, Samantha Moorhouse, who played Catherine.
The group have a few more performances in Penzance and are on tour throughout the UK this summer. Take a look at their website for more on performances of Murder on the Terrace, The Secret Garden, The Taming of the Shrew and Billionaire Boy.
There’s still plenty left to enjoy at Penlee Park this summer. Check out my recommendations here