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Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel
Published on Sunday, 19 August 2012
3

3 stars

Laughing Horse @ The Counting House (venue website)
Comedy
2-13, 15-26 Aug, 1:30pm-2:30pm
Reviewed by Will Howard

 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.
 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.

The premise of Austentatious – as the subtitle suggests, an improvised Jane Austen novel, live, on stage – is pretty cracking, and its high concept is a pleasure to see on a free Fringe bill. Some of the more literary-minded among you might be sold already, but whether they live up to the promise of the premise is debatable. They do combine it with some very funny moments and lines, and if that’s enough for you, then I can happily recommend it.

The performance starts with a talk from the self-proclaimed “only scholar of Jane Austen in the world (on LinkedIn)” giving a talk on how, rather than the historically-accurate six, Austen was actually responsible for 963 works ranging from novels and short stories to haiku. Her works are found all over the world and, strangely enough, all over time. As the audience enters, they’re given a mock book cover on which they write a title, and then put it in a basket on the front of the stage. The scholar picks one, declares that the troupe shall act it out… and wackiness ensues.

The troupe are good at what they do, always ready with a quip, a very thinly veiled innuendo or a ridiculous name to drop. On the day that I saw them they were even more hamstrung by the fact that the venue’s lighting desk was stolen the night before, so a not-inconsiderable amount of kudos must go to them for pulling it off in the first place.

The issue I had with Austentatious was that I didn’t feel invested in it. It didn’t seem like the audience had much to do with the show's genesis on the night, in the way that the best Fringe improv groups manage. Sure, we the audience (i.e. one person) decided the title, but literally everything else was up to the actors, with no further contribution from the crowd. This presumably makes it easier to create a relatively cohesive satire, but to me, it seems like a missed opportunity.  My experience with other improv shows suggests that when there’s a lot of audience generated-content, the whole thing engages the audience more.

Further, in this case, there wasn’t any point to it all – it didn’t really have to have the Austen novel frame, as it never seemed to poke fun at Austen specifically.  If you look at something like Lights! Camera! Improvise!, they decide on a genre specifically so they can laugh at the tropes and beats associated with, say a superhero film or film noir.  Austentatious never really lives up to its high concept, funny as it is.

I’d like to stress two things at this point. First, I was clearly in a minority here, as everyone else seemed to love it. (Which doesn’t make me wrong, per se, but if enough people tell you you’re drunk it’s not inadvisable to have a lie down.) The second thing is that it’s very funny… and if that’s all you’re looking for then I can’t help but recommend this. How much should we ask of an improv group? Austentatious didn’t deliver all I’m looking for, but it was fine for an awful lot more.

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FROM OUR ARCHIVES

These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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