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Oct 30th 2013
Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey – cleverly choreographed for the stage

The Austro-British Society brought this enchanting production by Box Tale Soup over from this summer's Edinburgh Festival Fringe to the Ursulinensäle in Innsbruck on Wednesday Oct 30 for two performances.

Box Tale Soup are actors Antonia Christophers and Noel Byrne who, although not trained as puppeteers, have devised an eccentric group of quite distinct paper puppets who (yes, who!) form the rest of the cast. There is something very Blue Peter about these creations, made of carton and brown wrapping paper, with a broomstick to hold them by and jaws stuck on the heads with ordinary envelope clips. They are not even painted, colour-coordinated ribbons underline who belongs to which family. And yet, the surprisingly expressive paper faces and the range of voices employed by the young actors make Mr and Mrs Allen just as real as Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney, the heroic couple played by the actors themselves.

Austen’s own words actually make up over 90% of the text spoken on stage. Box Tale Soup were much helped in their adaptation by the fact that the novel contains a great amount of dialogue. Still, it must have taken considerable skill to carefully select the passages that tell the love story and at the same time transport the main theme of the book, i.e. our fascination with an exciting tale. Reading for pleasure, allowing oneself to get absorbed by it but without completely losing one’s good sense is what Austen seems to recommend. In Box Tale Soup’s production of Northanger Abbey, Henry Tilney not only represents this ideal, we are also reminded what a good story teller he himself is.

In Innsbruck Antonia Christophers and Noel Byrne performed to a practically full house in the Ursulinensäle and although some narrative passages may have been told a bit too fast for a largely non-native speaker audience, the grace and dance-like rhythm of the encounters of humans with puppets charmed everybody.

Brigitte Scott

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