Austentatious takes improv back to the Regency period - and proves that the Georgians were missing out. With only a title from the audience to inspire their piece, the cast create a decadent tale in the famous Austen style. Equipped with but a fly bar of flat scenery, the odd costume accessory, and only five actors, the production is tasked, and succeeds, at filling the large McEwan Hall.
Welcomed in by a violinist, the space befits the theme of the play - wide gaping ceilings and regal wall decor. One of the first figures the audience is introduced to is a supposed Austen “expert”. However, talking about Austen’s love for the fringe and her penchant for ‘showstoppers’, it soon became clear that this figure was no more than a comic device - and a very effective one at that.
This performance was created from the title ‘Bathing in Bath’, and the troupe excelled at merging the historical with the absurd. Sometimes improv can fall short of the mark for ironically being so smooth that it is impossible to tell it is created on the spot, but Austentatious found the perfect balance between creating laughter at the pure wit of certain lines and laughter at the visibility improvised nature of the performance. It maintained its professionalism while also allowing the audience to enjoy the few moments of awkward wording or cast corpsing.
The characters created were typical of the Austen style: two wealthy sisters interacting with a hard-on-their-luck brother and sister. However, there was also a farcical villain added - in this performance it was a certain Mr Hat-Man. The physical comedy and sustained jab at his asexuality brought a fresh perspective to the stiff world of Bath created onstage. This character brilliantly complemented the few modern references that were made to update and amuse the audience.
The repeated gags were also an impressive feat for this improv performance. The puns made by the younger of the two sisters, the insults at Mr Hat-man’s smooth area “down below”, and the sexual innuendos about the sisters giving away their ‘crumb’ to a man were all maintained throughout. Not only was the group’s ability to recall these jokes a testament to their improv expertise, but the jokes also increased in hilarity each time.
The performance was accompanied by the violinist throughout - a consistently beautiful underscoring to each scene. The violinist was a comic in and of himself, rendering up a minor version of the wedding march to a mismatched wedding and interacting with the cast at several moments. Impressive too was the live captioning, not only increasing the performance’s accessibility but also clarifying the genius lines of the cast.
Austentatious was a delight to view and a fresh take on an old art. Witty and wonderful, its adaptation of one of the nation’s greatest writers would not disappoint its literary inspiration.