Austentatious at Fortune Theatre
“Is Guildford even in Surrey?!” This line, roared at the crowd, has surely never been met with such an explosion of laughter from a captivated audience as it did halfway through Austentatious, but that’s part of the genius of this improv group.
On the surface, an improvised Jane Austen play sounds like it could be a rather dull affair with its flowery language, perhaps because we have been overexposed to period drama thanks to the likes of Downton Abbey. However, the quick-witted improvisers of Austentatious manage to find the laughs in a time where women were treated like possessions and class was the only thing of importance.
The play itself is reliant on the audience’s witty (and sometimes terrible) title suggestions, which the company must then develop a narrative around as well as ensuring they deliver on the laughs. Tonight’s show is “Made in Chelsea: Strumpet in Brixton”.
Unfazed by this incredibly specific and bizarre title, the players treat us to Jane Austen’s characters attempting to write and act out a Made in Chelsea-type scripted reality TV show. This ridicule of the television programme is encapsulated perfectly when one of the actors does his best imitation of a spoilt Made in Chelsea character, where he calls everyone “mate” three times, insists he knows Hugo behind the bar who can fix them up with as many flat whites as they want and flirts with anything that moves.
Of course, there are a few flat moments over the course of the nearly two-hour-long duration but the actors work well as an ensemble and manage to help each other out or put a joke out of its misery if it’s met with just an awkward titter from the spectators. But for every gag that dies, there is one that has the audience in stitches, which the performers rightly squeeze every drop out of.
Surprisingly, although the story is relatively comprehensive, it’s the moments where the actors make a mistake and the rest of the cast pick them up on it that actually manage to get the biggest laughs. This might be because one gets the impression that after the hundreds of shows the players have gone through together they are wanting to entertain each other as much as the audience, which may well be the secret to Austentatious’ success after all this time.
Photo: The Other Richard
Austentatious is at Fortune Theatre for regular Monday evening performance from 18th February until 22nd July 2019. For further information or to book visit the show’s website here.