Monday, 28 October 2019

COMEDY REVIEW: Austentatious - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

Performed by an Improv company of the same name, this strong cast brought us ‘Austentatious’. We all know of  ‘Pride And Prejudice’ but this company of actors are travelling all around the country, uncovering lost masterpieces written by Jane Austen. Her obscure works have included: ‘Sixth Sense & Sensibility’, ‘Double 0 Darcy’ and ‘Mansfield Shark’.

No two shows are the same as entire plays are improvised from start to finish, based on a book title suggested by the audience. The whole performance was directed by an academic whose specialist subject was Jane Austen’s long lost novels. It was hard to believe some of the fascinating facts he told us – no really, it was hard to believe what he said. It was performed in period costume with piano music against a Georgian style living room with an excessively flowery aesthetic.

Tonight’s one-off performance, Ladies and Gentleman, was: ‘Corn Laws: The Thatching Menace’.

Sitting down in the stalls of the Quays Theatre, I could hear some mellifluent background piano music. I presumed it was playing on a backing track. A quick turn to my right and the music was actually being played live onstage by a subtly eccentric performer. It was a funny surprise and set the tone for just how humorous the rest of the show was going to be. Even if the actors didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. Whatever was about to happen though, the ensemble sure had each other’s backs.

The theatre company channelled Mischief Theatre’s creativity and metatheatricality, in the sense that even when mistakes were made in the improvisation that was where the fundamental comedy lay. Yes, they were laudable regarding their improvisation abilities, coming up with ideas quickly which cleverly related to the unique world of the play, but when the play went wrong it was so hilarious. Like laughing at your best friend, it was amusing to see them struggle momentarily. I thought, where was this going next? How in the world were they going to make sense of that situation? In what way were they going to finish the story?

A handful of anachronisms, a Scottish Gentleman with an agenda obsessed with Iru Bru, fornicating horses, a twisted magical fire-starter, an intelligent detective disguised as a dimwit, and a generous supply of ribbons all featured in tonight’s story. Despite its randomness, the plotline just about came to an end. Bizarre and delightful; totally unpredictable and side-splitting.

One minor criticism would be I don’t think they involved the audience enough. Why stop at book titles? What if certain lines or ideas had to be implemented into scenes? It could have included more specific references to other Jane Austin novels, I feel.

All things considered, it didn’t matter too much. The ‘Improv-agility’ on display was impressive, reflective of their hard work and regular practice as an ensemble. Jane Austen wrote in ‘Pride And Prejudice’: “A lady's imagination is very rapid”. The same can be said for the Austentatious Improv Group.

‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ meets ‘Jane Austen’ in ‘Austentatious’, a unique experience for bookworm fans of her novels or anyone looking for a night of laughter and entertainment. Every performance is different so go and see it again. Austoundingly funny.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 27/10/19

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