Theatre Review: Austentatious – An Improvised Jane Austen Novel at The Lowry, Salford

Austentatious at The Lowry

Smart, silly and wickedly funny, Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel is fully deserving of its huge popularity

Improvised comedy (or ‘improv’ as it is otherwise known) has always had a bit of a bad reputation in the UK. Despite continued efforts to revive the genre, many ‘off-the-cuff’ improv productions can easily become meandering and flabby. One troupe that have truly mastered the art, however, is the team behind Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel.

Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel is a comedy play told in the wondrous and witty style of Jane Austen. The audience suggest potential titles based loosely around a Jane Austen novel and the seasoned cast must spontaneously improvise and perform a complete dramatised play. The fresh and innovative concept has resulted in Austentatious becoming one of the most talked-about shows on the UK comedy scene, winning the Chortle award for Best Sketch/Character/Improv Act in 2014 and with two sell-out national tours under their belt.

What makes Austentatious so special is that no two shows are ever the same as it is based entirely on audience suggestions. Fresh, innovative and wickedly funny, the seven-strong ensemble somehow manage to keep the story interesting, the pace fast and gag rate high for an impressive 60 minutes. On this occasion, the Jane Austen ‘lost’ work plucked at random from audience suggestions was The Baby Lied, a ridiculous but hilarious story of a devil child who has the power to turn grown men into geese. Cue a host of self-referential gags, exaggerated physical comedy and laugh-out-loud moments, performed in full Regency costume with live musical accompaniment.

Much of the comedy emerges when the actors break with convention and the fourth-wall, tripping over the plot lines and responding to each other’s cues or mistakes. It is here that you get a sense of how well the team work together. The seasoned cast, made up of Andrew Hunter Murray, Amy Cooke-Hodgson, Joseph Morpurgo, Cariad Lloyd, Charlotte Gittins, Graham Dickson and Rachel Parris, are clearly all great comic actors, performing the hour-long show with wit, verve and energy. Cariad Lloyd, in particular, stands out for her quick retorts, one-liners and spot-on timing.

As expected from an improvised comedy play, the plot does become a little silly and convoluted at times but this, on the whole, adds to the comic nature. The team also work with little props and no set at all, leaving the setting of the piece to the audience’s imagination.

That said, Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel is production fully deserving of its huge popularity. Smart, silly and wickedly funny, it is a delight to watch and an experience unlikely to be replicated.

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed on 14 January 2016 | Image: Richard Davenport

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