Austentatious, Fortune Theatre

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Austentatious (Photo credit: Robert Viglasky)

A fixture in London and the Edinburgh Fringe, Austentatious is an eight-strong troupe of comic improvisers. Creating a fully improvised story at each performance in the style of Jane Austen based solely on a title suggestion from the audience, they are now embarking on a Monday night residency in the Fortune Theatre (described at last night’s performance as a ‘haunted cube’) until July 22nd.

At the press night performance I attended, the story was “Maid In Chelsea, Strumpet in Brixton”, which was leapt upon by the cast, giving us a tale that took us from a look at scripted reality in 1814, through the tearooms of Greggs, via the foggy godforsaken wasteland that is Slough. And the six performers at last night’s show (the cast rotate, although there is not a weak link to be found) mine each scene to full comic effect, mixing what you’d expect from a Jane Austen story – burgeoning desire, social climbing, courtly dancing – with what you definitely wouldn’t – a pitch-perfect Made in Chelsea parody, a monologue expounding the delights of south-west London, a villainous producer called Mr Channel-Four with trousers made of oil (it made sense at the time, I swear).

One of the joys of seeing live improv is that the audience is secretly hoping something could go wrong – not cataclysmically wrong, just wrong enough to see the whites in the performers’ eyes. And in this spirit Austentatious all keep each other gamely on their toes, never making it too easy for one another, to the repeated delight of the audience. While comedy is the number one priority of the night, the cast work hard to make sure that the story comes to a satisfying resolution – plots are dovetailed, villains are despatched, and a happy ending comes to all who deserve it.

Austentatious is, at its heart, the chance to see some fine comic minds at the height of their powers. While each show is unique, they are all told with the kind of spontaneous wit of which Jane herself would no doubt be proud. Highly recommended.

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