★★★½ Austentatious at the Fortune Theatre
A hit & miss 90 minutes of improv comedy – but the hits are worth the misses.
Austentatious keeps rolling along, an unstoppable hit which has entertained – and continues to entertain – the length and breadth of Britain.
An entirely improvised comedy play, Austentatious takes a basic premise – audience members suggest an Austen-esque title, and the night unfolds accordingly – and relies upon the improvisational talents of its tight-knit cast to keep the laughs going.
The company have played over 500 performances no two shows ever the same. One assumes that the familiarity between the performers, and the almost telepathic ability to seamlessly coalesce around common comedic ideas, is counterbalanced by a fear of regurgitating what happened last time out – if so, it doesn’t show. There are no panicked expressions, or any sense that what you’re getting is a rehashed and reheated version of the 500 or so previous performances.
There is a sense though – perhaps inescapable with improv on this scale – that everyone, performers and audience alike, are waiting for the huge side-splitting laugh that will define the night. There’s no forcing it – it will either come, or it won’t. At the press performance at the Fortune Theatre, the sides don’t split but not for the want of trying. Cariad Lloyd and Amy Cooke-Hodgson mine the richest vein in the audience-suggested ‘Made in Chelsea: Strumpet in Brixton’, and Rachel Parris – voice perhaps not quite reaching right to the back of the theatre – most thoroughly disappears into her various characters. It’s all consistently funny stuff, and mind-boggling to think how they all manage to stay on (pretty much) the same page of the non-existent script, but the show-defining moment of inspiration eludes all.
Previous ‘lost’ masterpieces covered have included ‘The Sixth Sense and Sensibility’, ‘Mansfield Shark’ and ‘Double 0 Darcy’, and it’s inevitable that some nights will just work lend themselves that bit better to 90 minutes of improv. One suspects that the two halves of 45 minutes might better be suited to separate titles, giving the chance for a refresh at the interval. Certainly mid-way through the second half an inescapable inkling of fatigue arrives, though the cast admirably rouse themselves and the audience for a satisfying conclusion.
A night at Austentatious is certainly recommended though – and a Loyalty Card scheme, which rewards those who attend four shows with a free fifth visit, is a great idea. Even if one night doesn’t completely tickle your fancy, the next night surely (statistically) will!