Fasten your knickerbockers and hold onto your bonnets:
Sceptics should have seen how this intrepid troupe tackled the horrible title they were thrown, which involved an Austin 7 and a jalopy
Embrace the whimsy: it allows this harmoniously offbeat six-piece to explore one of the esoteric (and usually rude) Austen titles we have thought up and scrawled down in the queue before the show, pulled quite literally from a hat immediately prior to its staging.
In this performance, Austen herself remained an afterthought throughout, apart from the serendipitous plotting – but we were compensated with bursts of exquisite character comedy, whether in the form of Joseph Morpurgo’s absurdly eloquent servant, Rachel Parris’ leering Lord Green, or Amy Cooke-Hodgson’s gruff barmaid.
Aside from some corpsing, which really just adds to the humour, it’s an incredibly slick operation. Most scenes involve up to four characters, leaving the other cast members to cut them off when they’ve reached their peak. The group’s violinist uses his improvised repertoire shrewdly, providing 18th-century atmos for everything from meet cutes to horse races, while the clothing and even the few props are all period.
So yes: the spirit, parlance and narrative pacing of Austen do form the essence of the show – but it’s in the jarringly modern juxtapositions that most of the comedy finds its source, and it sometimes feels disappointingly easy. Yes, it’s funny that, for example, Lord Eccleston uses an anti-dandruff shampoo that doesn’t exist yet, and yes, it’s funny when one character, Lady Nicole Scherzinger, cites Pussycat Dolls lyrics. But however they spin it, the self-consciously wacky anachronisms are essentially just one joke, and it sometimes feels dangerously close to getting old.
It would be all too easy to slate this limitation were it not for the enthusiasm of the cast, who like us are quite clearly having enormous fun. And although the performance of Beyoncé’s Single Ladies dance might seem tantamount to pressing a tried-and-tested laugh button, they ensure improvisation remains the focus of the show most of the time.
Sceptics should have seen how this intrepid troupe tackled the horrible title they were thrown, which involved an Austin 7 and a jalopy. Did they all know what a jalopy was? Nay! Did they flinch? Verily, nay! Their fluid collaborative efforts fashioned a gross-out love story that somehow ended up hinging on one character vomiting out live mice at a carriage Grand Prix in Kent. As it stands this show is a little bit comfortable in its shiny colonial boots, but it remains a most diverting postprandial hour.