Austentacious (Fortune Theatre)

Improvised shows are always fun, as Showstopper! proved early in 2019. That was a completely improvised musical, with a title suggested by the audience, and three musical styles agreed.

Austentatious, as you might imagine, presents an “improvised Jane Austen novel” from a suggested title, under the guise of one of Austen’s many “lost” works. At the show I saw, the title chosen was “Mansfield Caravan Park” which turned into an amusing piece about snobbery, hidden passions, improbable triplets, an incongurous pan factory, a study in adverbiage, and a heap of hidden gay subtext.

The title of the show itself is a play on words, on “ostentatious”, which is loosely defined as seeking to attract attention by obviousness. Quite often comedy can be unduly broad without much thought behind it, but the team behind Austentacious clearly have Janeite souls and can quickly react to whatever situations and lines are thrown to them, including sight gags and name puns.

Although I regretted the absence of actual Austen characters in caravan-land (what fun could have been had with the Eltons, or Lady Catherine De Bourgh), the characters created by the team were excellently portrayed, and came together well to advance the story, even including the requisite happy ending(s).

Just announced for a continuing residence at the Fortune Theatre (Sundays and Mondays) from 24 February into mid-July 2020, Austentacious is not just for Jane Austen afficionados (although having a working knowledge of her novels probably helps) but for anyone who likes to watch a company making it up as they go along, and seeing how successful it will be. There’s even a loyalty card scheme – attend four shows and get the fifth free – for those dedicated to catching most of Austen’s lost classics.

The cast of Austentacious at the performance I saw included Amy Cooke-Hodgson, Andrew Hunter Murray, Cariad Lloyd, and Charlotte Gittins. The lack of a programme means I cannot fully credit the whole company or their creatives, but all combine to create a show which entertains, diverts and delights in equal measure. If you have the pride and the prejudice, the sense and the sensibility, and you have the persuasion to park yourself, you will enjoy this show.