Edinburgh Fringe 2016
Fringe improv favourites Austentatious return to Edinburgh to present more of Jane Austen’s many, many unpublished novels. Each performance is a brand new Jane Austen work, based on a single audience suggestion, completely improvised live on stage.
Every show a new Jane Austen novel is made up on the spot, based on a title suggested by an audience member and pulled at random out of a basket. This time it was Johnny’s Tremendously Trippy Dream, following the adventures of incompetent bank clerk Johnny as he attempts to interpret the trippy dreams he’s been having, featuring his dead father. Meanwhile, of course, there is a romance developing between him and his (adopted) cousin Ruth. Séances, evil plots, and complicated metaphors about doll houses also featured. Of course, this being improv, Austentatious will never perform this particular story again, so any description of this performance is only useful as a guide to the sort of things it might feature – or a warning to those who would prefer something a little more straightforward not to submit title suggestions containing ‘Trippy Dream’.
No real knowledge of Jane Austen is required to appreciate Austentatious. On this occasion, Austen references were limited to the regency setting, obligatory romance, and some introductory remarks at the beginning. If you know that Austen was a nineteenth-century novelist who wrote about courtship among the English gentry, and not a chartered surveyor, you will have no problem understanding all the jokes. In this particular show, more references were made to Scrooge McDuck (‘My coat of arms is Scrooge McDuck and I am not happy unless I have a pool full of money’) than to the (published) works of Austen.
It wasn’t the most logical or believable of plots, but it is a rare improv group that can create a well-constructed plot as they go. Most of the time people go to improv shows for the comedy, of which Austentatious are masters. The talented cast are particularly good at picking up jokes and throwaway comments made earlier in the show and turning them into integral parts of the plot (which is, incidentally, how the plot got so weird). They are also brilliant at rolling with anything that comes up, no matter how strange. A large part of the amusement value comes from watching them run with ridiculous ideas and follow things to their absurd conclusions.
I think most people will agree that Jane Austen’s previously undiscovered novels are much, much more hilarious, though slightly less well plotted, than the six published books we know and love. Non-stop jokes keep the audience laughing throughout, and the show is highly entertaining and enjoyable.