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Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel review

| Comedy, Festivals, Theatre | 22/08/2016


Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

Austentatious perform the very best improvised comedy, blowing the audience away with their talent, timing and interaction.  Even those who hate Austen can love this.

I’d like to start with a confession: I didn’t think I’d massively enjoy watching Austentatious.  That’s despite the mountain of top-marks and awards the troupe has earned.  Despite liking all of its cast members from first-hand experience or by reputation.  And despite appreciating that Austen provides a good backdrop for improvised comedy (as Daniel Nils Roberts explained to me).

The problem was that I hated reading Pride and Prejudice at school and always found the Regency era a bit … well, twee.  So it’s even more impressive that the performers completely won me round, turning in one of the funniest and most watchable shows of the Fringe.

In each Austentatious production, the cast performs a totally improvised play suggested by a random audience member.  The title chosen on Friday was My Grandmother Was A Teenage Prostitute, providing good scope for risqué references while nodding to Austenian themes of propriety and reputation.

Each of the actors excelled, with Graham Dixon and Andrew Hunter Murray demanding most attention in their roles as the excellently understated Rachel Parris’ villainous half-brother and bumbling suitor.  Joe Morpurgo and Charlotte Gittens offered balance with straighter performances, while Roberts provided light relief as an old man or coach driver.

There’s little to gain from dwelling on the details of this particular play, except to say it was cleverly interwoven, very funny and extremely low on mistake or interruption.  That’s despite each actor taking great pleasure in making the others laugh or pouncing on the slightest slip-up, which adds hugely to the comedy.  Also, unlike other improv, there’s no simple way to ‘tap out’ a struggling scene, but the cast have developed a sixth sense in knowing the right time to move on.  This comes from years of experience working together, but also extreme skill and composure.

Although their run at the Fringe has now ended, Austentatious embark on a national tour in October.  I’d strongly urge anyone to see and be wowed by this talented group of performers, even if you can’t stand Austen.

Austenatious start their national tour in October with details of the dates, time and venues available on their official website.  To find out when more shows are added, follow the group on Facebook or Twitter @AustenImpro.  

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