Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel

It is a truth universally acknowledged that starting a review of Austentatious with ‘it is a truth universally acknowledged’ is so cliché that the author should be beaten. Thus this review actually starts in the next sentence.

Much of the comedy emerges when the actors break with convention (and the fourth wall) with references to WKD, crocodiles and, er, bringing a show to the Fringe.

Within the wide and varied society of the Fringe, Austentatious ranks most highly as a show of great renown, secure in audience numbers and holding a reputation as one of the most eligible improvisations around.

Back for its third season, the conceit is the same as ever – one of Jane Austen’s ‘lost’ works plucked at random from those suggested by the audience is brought to the stage, and a regency romance follows. Any Austen reader will enjoy the tropes and tribulations that follow: the barbed dialogue, formal addresses and family scenes are all familiar, even for those who have only picked up Austen’s style through osmosis.

Much of the comedy emerges when the actors break with convention (and the fourth wall) with references to WKD, crocodiles and, er, bringing a show to the Fringe. These all gained big laughs at the performance I saw. However, it’s a slight shame that there isn’t more Jane-like wit to be found in the show, nor many inside jokes for confirmed Austenites. These are largely relegated to the programme, which is a comic feat in itself.

In fact, the connection to Austen can get a bit tenuous at times. Charlotte Gittins has the most natural grasp on the right tone, occasionally channelling Anna Chancellor’s Caroline Bingley. When I saw it, the men Andrew Hunter Murray and Graham Dickson both went for the softer style of Austen’s male leads – foppish, miserable and mild-mannered. A nice rake would have livened things up. Then again, perhaps it’s natural that the men be relegated to the background in an improvised Jane Austen novel.

Though the plot takes a little while to lumber into view, the group do well to stick broadly within the bounds of Jane Austen’s romance plots – when so much of improv comes down to ‘Yes, AND’ it must be remarkably difficult to keep from getting carried away. Instead they lampshade a lot, pointing out each other’s errors, anachronisms and foibles with barely contained glee. The performers are clearly all great comic actors, though Cariad Lloyd stands out for her excellent command of quick retorts and timing – frequently it is her one-liners that bring a scene to a close at just the right moment.

Eventually everything is tied up in a remarkably neat ending, much like Austen’s last page resolutions. If it’s a tad predictable, it’s easy to forgive, because with a reputation like Austentatious’, everyone knows what to expect.

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Performances

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The Blurb

Austentatious are back for a third glorious year! Each day, an all-star cast improvise a brand new Austen work before your astonished eyes, based on audience suggestions (previous works include Strictly Come Darcy, Mansfield Shark). Full of swooning bonnets, stolen looks and dashing gents, Austentatious is not to be missed: fresh, hilarious and entirely unique comedy. Book now to avoid disappointment! ‘One of the most enjoyable 60 minutes on the Fringe’ **** (Guardian). ‘Constant wit and verve’ **** (Times). ‘Supersmart, terrifically funny’ **** (Scotsman). ‘Highly impressive ... they're all hugely talented performers’ (Time Out).

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