Grand Opera House York – Saturday 20th July 2019.
Reviewed by Michelle Richardson
As part of the Great Yorkshire Fringe, Austentatious was performed at the Grand Opera House in York. It was great to see the packed-out theatre and to see the show so well supported, all on a Saturday afternoon. Austentatious is an entirely improvised comedy play in the style of Jane Austen.
On entrance to the theatre a pianist plays tunes fitting of the Austin era, whilst the audience were handed out a small leaflet in the style of a vintage Penguin book cover, where we were encouraged to make up our own title for a Jane Austen novel. Jane Austin was introduced to the audience as a poetess, a novelist of six books, but it is believed that she actually wrote 335 novels and, as virtually all are missing, the audience were asked to shout out names of these lost works. Titles were shouted out before it was decided that the show we were to see, was the long forgotten ACU: Austen Cinematic Universe.
With a cast of six, what followed was the mad cap story of playwright, Miss Johnson (Amy Cooke-Hodgson) preparing to put on a show, which has been 20 years in the making. Her friends, played by Cariad Lloyd and Lauren Shearing, are busy making cinematic buns, black (made with coal) and white ones. There couldn’t be an Austen novel without the love interests. We have Gregory Peck (Daniel Nils Roberts), the faithful friend, who has been frequently friend-zoned, and the famed critic Peter Kermode (Joseph Morpurgo), who is in town ready to review her work, and after a savage review becomes the cad of the piece. The remaining cast member was Andrew Hunter Murray, playing several characters, a proper gentleman amongst them.
Just like a proper Austen novel, true love conquers, as Peck wins Miss Johnson’s heart, but she has one stipulation, she will keep her surname as no one wants to be known as Mrs Peck!
This was a show like no other, full of modern references, Podcasts, CGI, Thunderbirds, KPI’s, which certainly resonated with me, and Marvel, enjoyed the Guardians of the Galaxy one. I also noted Lloyd doing a wonderful “Catherine Tate”. Mentions of Frida Kahlo, which resulted in an hilarious mono-brow scene, courtesy of a fan, brilliant. Other comic highs are Fetid Margaret and her leakages, thoroughly disgusting, misunderstood mimes, which involved painting, a monkey and a glass of water.
The talented cast showed how good they were at improvising, not knowing what absurd random thing was coming their way. It was great to see how hard they worked coming up with such great whacky ideas and lines, rolling with all the surprises coming their way. I enjoyed seeing the mirth of the other actors whilst waiting in the side lines. They were all truly masters of their craft.
You don’t have to be an Austen fan to appreciate this show, it is more about the comedy and the unknown, after all no two shows are exactly the same. Austentatious is an absolutely bonkers play, with ridiculous plot, it is a bit of a stretch to even call it that, but it is simply hilarious and so fun to watch. One not to be missed.