Did you know Jane Austen was the “Keeper of the Bees”, an “avid collector of snow-globes”, and has actually written over nine-hundred and seventy-seven novels? That’s right, our beloved spinster authoress gets revved up a notch in Austentatious, an hour-long improvisational satire that highlights the absurd without losing the essence of Austen’s world.
Performed in the spectacular, and recently refurbished McEwan Hall, the show opens with self-proclaimed Austen scholar “Dr. Sam Patton”, who takes hand-raised suggestions from the audience as to Austen’s “lesser known works”—or rather titles that we, as audience members, were given the opportunity to make up and write down on Penguin Books-style sheets handed out before entering the Hall. Now, it’s important to stress that Austentatious is not a play, but an improv—therefore, the show will never be performed the same way twice. My particular performance had the choice between “The Regiment Are In Town And My A**Hole Sisters Didn’t Tell Me”, “Crikey, Crumpets?!”, and finally “Periods and Patriarchy”. The latter was chosen, and focused on the difficulties between Angelica and her sister, “Man-gelica”, their misogynistic father, a lovesick canoe-theologist, and a lot of falling quail eggs.
Austentatious is an inspired and, truthfully, quite simplistic idea that is perfect for Fringe audiences, regardless of your opinion of Austen. This themed improvisational show excels in the skilfully diverse array of cast members whose chemistry is truly unparalleled. But what makes it go that extra mile is the inclusivity of the audience members, starting from the queue outside, throughout the performance, and even as you exit. They treat the audience like a character that’s along for the ride, acknowledging and wink-wink-nudge-nudge-ing throughout; it is as if we, just for that hour, are all in on our own little inside joke and can leave the theatre knowing we experienced something truly unique that could never be replicated.
The only possible downside I found was, because it’s an improvisational performance, it could be a gamble as to whether your specific viewing is a smash, or more of a dud. When a certain scene is lagging, a cast member will sprint across stage, signalling a change of scene that can be a bit abrupt at first, particularly if it that scene was cut too short. The lighting was a little spotty, having to keep up with the unscripted narrative, but commendable nonetheless. However, I was very impressed how much they were able to keep the plot generally moving and interesting, cutting off lagging scenes and pushing forward for sixty minutes straight with no interruption.
After sell-out national tours, a West End run and BBC Radio 4 special, Austentatious returns to the Fringe for its seventh year bigger and bolder than ever. Be sure to stay seated after the bows, as you’ll get the opportunity to purchase their merchandise (tea towels, totes, aprons, DVDs, etc.) as well as gain more information about their upcoming show, Crosstentatious, where the cast members cross-dress and perform their Georgian improv for charity.
Jane Austen meets Who’s Line Is It Anyway in this remarkable and thoroughly unique piece of theatre you won’t want to miss.
Underbelly, Bristo Square – McEwan Hall
Photo Credit: Robert Viglasky