As most people know, Jane Austen was an English novelist known primarily for her six major novels, which interpret, critique and comment upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century. What is not well known is that Jane actually wrote more than six novels. In fact, she wrote over 900, and Austentatious, which has recently taken up residence at the Fortune Theatre, are doing their best to bring each of these forgotten treasures back to life.
Okay, Jane did ‘only’ write 6 novels – “Pride and Prejudice”, and five others, but thanks to Austentatious, we get a chance to imagine others that she could have written. The show starts out with the audience members being given a front cover of an Austen book, but with the title missing. As we took our seats, trying to think of an appropriate title, we were serenaded with olde worlde English folk songs. This was a nice touch but, unfortunately, the singers weren’t miked and had trouble being heard over the hullabaloo of a West End audience taking their seats. However, once the final audience members popped in from the bar – it’s OK, the rest of us will wait while you get your drink – and the lights began, the show started in earnest.
First, Mr. Andrew Hunter Murray, in his guise of an Austen Academic, took some shouted titles from the audience and gave a brief synopsis of each story, as if Jane were stood there with him, making it up as he went along. Finally, he stopped at one title and that became the novel that he and his fellow cast members – Amy Cooke-Hodgson, Cariad Lloyd, Charlotte Gittins, Daniel Nils Roberts, Graham Dickson, Joseph Morpurgo, Rachel Parris – retrieve from their mental archives and perform over the next couple of hours.
There’s not much more I can tell you about Austentatious. As it is a fully improvised show, every night is different. What I can do is give you an idea of what was in the production I saw, which may give an insight into the minds of this talented troupe of performers. So, in the production I attended, we had the following: Orange Cider, Pinnochio, a lot of rubbing, a witch, a seventeen-year mystery, a bed shared by brother and sister, lots and lots of toilet rolls, Scottish lawyers, a talking hat, frozen faces, a very worrying apple tree and a sad banana. If that lot isn’t a combination guaranteeing a good night, I’m not sure what is.
I have seen quite a few improvised productions in my time and this has to be the best so far. A very impressive cast have to think rapidly on their feet, reacting to whatever is said – even when something comes completely out of the left field – and providing a laugh-out-loud, cohesive story for the audience. The only thing I was surprised about was that there wasn’t more audience interventions, with them being able to add unexpected elements to the story. However, it doesn’t really matter as I had a fantastic time and for my first Jane Austen experience – never read a book or seen a TV/movie adaptation – I was amazed at how well her writing has translated into the twenty-first century.
Review by Terry Eastham
See a regency tale like no other featuring wilful heroines, haughty gentlemen, wayward vicars and hilarious consequences – no two shows are ever the same and swooning is guaranteed!
Returning to the Fortune Theatre in the glittering West End to entertain the society of London, this smash-hit improvised comedy features a cast of the UK’s most acclaimed and quickest improvisers and has dazzled audiences around the UK in seven national tours and multiple sell-out seasons at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Prepare your carriages and dig out your top hats and bonnets. It is, after all, a truth universally acknowledged that anyone in possession of wit and good taste must be in want of great entertainment. Whether you’re insane for Jane or don’t know your Bingleys from your Darcys this hilarious spectacle is not to be missed!
Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel
Booking to 27 July 2020
Fortune Theatre, London