Currently touring the country, a band of improvisational mavericks are out to restore to us the lost novels of England’s Jane. For shame, that we have not experienced the dazzling dialogue of ‘To Wit, To Woo’, the uncharacteristic social commentary of ‘Bennet-fit Street’ or, written during her drag queen phase, the raunchy drama ‘Kinky Bonnets’.
Readers, I jest. These are some of the more inventive audience suggestions from recent performances of Austentatious, a niche Regency improv show which paid Cambridge Junction a call on 17 April. After a spoof lecture on Jane’s life and works (by a dubiously Dutch professor), tonight’s title, one of several put forward by the audience before the show, is plucked from the hat – ‘Fear and Forgiveness’.
Armed with these three words, some fabulous costumes and their own wits, the London-based fivesome, who have already had great success in Edinburgh, create an impressively complex, comic story of family feuds, hypochondriac gentry, tangled affections and air guitars. Even the audience comes into play as a crowd of zombie music fans at a charity concert organised by Lord Geldof.
It’s fascinating to see their minds working as one, building on earlier jokes, acting on unspoken cues and riffing off one another, chasing their imaginations to spin wild stories which dance away on glorious tangents. Characters, backstories and a plot gradually emerge, complete with dramatic finale as the family band, ‘The Bosoms’, reunite on stage, to the delight of the roaring undead.
Sensible (well…), good humoured and lively – Austentatious is just what good improv ought to be. This is high-end humour with a fantastic sense of fun, while its immediacy and unpredictability offers surprises at every turn. I liked it very well indeed.