Having missed the opportunity to see this show at the Edinburgh Fringe, I had been eagerly anticipating an evening of clever improvised comedy for some weeks. And Austentatious certainly does not disappoint. As they enter The Lantern at Colston Hall, audience members are asked to write down titles of imaginary novels, one of which is then chosen at random as the starting point for the performance. (The title of this particular show turns out to be ‘The Obsequious Laughter of a Ghost’). Just before the performance, a short speech on the life of Austen herself is given, on this particular occasion comparing her to Candice Brown, the winner of this year’s Great British Bake Off. This sets the tone for the loosely organised silliness which is to follow.
The laughs come thick and fast throughout the story; the entire audience is regularly in stitches. The cast work brilliantly together so that each scene flows almost seamlessly. Any false starts or mistakes are incorporated effortlessly into the show, which only serves to increase the hilarity. Indeed some early slip-ups can become a running gag for the entirety of the performance, for example two sisters in this story both being called ‘Mary-Anne’. Highlights of this particular performance include a recurring joke about Liechtenstein, a brief reference to the show Stranger Things, and the titular ‘obsequious laughter of the ghost’ which somehow is funnier every time it happens.
The cast are very good at what they do; it is evident that a lot of work has gone in to making the show run smoothly, and yet their performances are also very natural. Charlotte Gittins is particularly hilarious as the mistress of a house who turns out to be a 500 year old mythical creature, and Andrew Hunter Murray’s performance as the ghost is equal parts unsettling and comical. The overriding theme of the Jane Austen novel is also never lost. The costumes undoubtedly help to achieve this, but the actors themselves have the ability to be inventive with their improvisation without straying too far out of Austen’s world. The live background music also deserves to be mentioned; the inspired addition of creepy violin music to certain scenes really lifts the improvisation to another level of genius.
Of course, the story is completely different with every performance, so it is impossible to predict what will happen in any other Austentatious show. The characters, themes and storylines are totally random each time. All I can say for certain is with a cast and crew this talented every performance will be utterly brilliant, and I urge you to go and see them if you can. Austentatious truly sets the standard for live improvised comedy.