If Pride & Prejudice taught us anything it is that one should not leap to rash conclusions based on a one-sided account. So it is convenient indeed that this week has seen Austentatious approached from two very different perspectives.
First up The Times, who tackle the irrepressible rise of UK improv in an article marking the upcoming launch of the Bristol Improv Theatre, the first venue in the country established to showcase solely unpremeditated dramatic delights.
Our very own Ms Cariad Lloyd articulates the unique dynamic that makes the group tick in this extract from the article:
“Improvising doesn’t feel like work to me. It’s a cliché, I know, but it feels like coming home.” And when it clicks, she says, it’s like nothing else. “I haven’t done many drugs, barely any, but I’d imagine . . . you are all reaching a high together, you are all on stage and thinking the same thing. It’s what you look for in any relationship, isn’t it?”
If that’s one explanation of our unique appeal, quite another is offered up in a brand new book, Marina Cano’s Jane Austen & Performance.
It is flattering indeed to be considered “a good closing example of the eminently performative and theatrical force behind Austen’s stories”, although we do fear the impact of the literary-Inception triggered by our show about Austen being analysed in the same manner as our source material.
Still, we look forward to putting the following pull-quote on our Edinburgh posters:
Through their flawed imitation of Austenian tropes and stories, Austentatious exposes the imitative nature of the Austen phenomenon: the actors frequently quote the screen adaptations—in their frequent inclusion of a final kiss and their use of the soundtrack of Langton’s BBC miniseries in their promotional video. Paraphrasing Butler, Austentatious’s parodic recitation of Austen reveals that performance is to source text not as copy is to original, but rather as copy is to copy.
So is improvising Austen akin to a collective narcotic buzz, or a perspicacious exposition of “the imitative nature of the Austen phenomenon”? We expect it’s a bit of both.
Now before we get cold turkey, we’re off to Caterham tonight, for another hit of purest Jane.
“With such an husband, her misery was considered certain.“
AUSTEN PREDICTS MELANIA TRUMP BY A MERE 200 YEARS IN PRIDE & PREJUDICE…
The Troupe As A Whole spent a joyous Christmas devoting themselves to the serious businesses of carousing, making merry, and teasing their family members. We are pleased to report that the season was a profitable one: Ms Cooke-Hodgson received a new set of amusingly shaped novelty spatulas from her uncle, and Mr Murray a gift subscription to Tinder (meaning he will have a parcel of firewood delivered to his home each month). As a group, Austentatious are looking forward to returning to the London stage – January’s show was a roaring success, and there are tickets on sale now for February – and are currently finalising their plans for an exciting new mystery venture, which they hope to announce before long!
Mr. Dickson has announced his New Year’s Resolution, which is to find a woman with more than fifteen thousand a year and marry her. The rest of the group has told him that there cannot be more than five women in the country with such incomes, but he has insisted that ‘Any woman should consider herself lucky to receive a dose of Dickson’s Old Peculiar’. We have insisted we do not know what he is talking about.
Mr. Roberts, for his part, insists that his New Year’s Resolution is to be gentle and kind to all those around him, and to obey the Fifteen Moral Scruples laid out in the works of Saint Ethelberg. This is despite the fact that Miss Bagshawe, the butcher’s daughter, swears blind she saw him making very hurtful comments to Palanquin, the milliner’s dog, and stealing an apple pie from the open window of the impoverished widow Miss Anstruther. He denied it, but his fireplace is full of pastry crumbs.
Mr. Morpurgo has been telling everyone he has seen an Unidentified Flying Object in the town. He claims that in late December, at about dusk, he saw a cigar-shaped object whirring across the sky away from him, and felt it scattered some hot fragments in its wake as it fled. This, he insists, is proof, although he was sitting in the town square just outside Wilkins’ Cigar Emporium, around the time of day Wilkins throws out his unused stock.
Mr. Murray has developed a mania for all manner of things beginning with ‘O’, and has become something of a dreadful bore on the subject. otters, orcas, ocelots and opals. He insists these pointless nuggets of trivia shall come in handy one day, perhaps in a theatrical performance; frankly, we have our doubts, and would be far happier if he were consigned to an asylum for the terminally dull.
Ms Cooke-Hodgson has invented a new vegetable she claims she intends to cook with. The carrsnip, a cross between a carrot and parsnip, is a most magnificent vegetable, with all the colour of the one and the shape of the other. She insists that in future, Christmas dinners shall have no need of a Carrot Section and separate Parsnip Zone, and that her new vegetable will have swept all before it. We hope she is right, as she has spent her whole inheritance on the idea.
Ms Parris has been penning rude songs about the Prince Regent, and performing them for selective crowds of young people in the town. Some of the songs are mild, and simply based on amusing misunderstandings of the word ‘plum’, but others are very rude indeed, seem almost designed to provoke litigation, and if Miss Parris is not careful she will be seized by the King’s Guardsmen and left in a cell until she’s realllllllly sorry.
Ms Gittins has been on a tour her management have termed ‘The Balls of the Continent’. From Vienna to Amsterdam and at every town in between, she has been performing her improvisations with great success and no little genius, adeptly adapting her performance to the whims of the crowd. It is believed she has a retinue of fans who would either kill or die for a single glance from her, which she finds very tiresome.
Ms Lloyd has taken a new protégé under her wing. She and her young companion are seldom seen apart; they go everywhere together, and are indeed quite inseparable. They gossip together, and are surely quite the most natural and delightful pair of souls to be found in the whole village.
“…she had the unexpected happiness of an invitation to accompany her uncle and aunt in a tour of pleasure which they proposed taking in the summer.
“We have not determined how far it shall carry us,” said Mrs. Gardiner, “but, perhaps, to the Lakes.”
No scheme could have been more agreeable to Elizabeth, and her acceptance of the invitation was most ready and grateful. “Oh, my dear, dear aunt,” she rapturously cried, “what delight! what felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour. Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are young men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers, without being able to give one accurate idea of anything. We will know where we have gone – we will recollect what we have seen.“ PRIDE & PREJUDICE
We must confess that travelling was every bit as exciting as Elizabeth Bennet suspected – for we have just returned from a wonderful touring jaunt all around England and can report that rocks and mountains do undeniably put the young men to shame!
From the quaint winding alleys of Frome and Shrewsbury, and the magical cathedrals of Wells and Lincoln, to the charming pier at Southport and the crags above Kendal (for we were indeed carried as far as the Lakes), we could not have had a more diverse and hospitable set of stops had they been imagined up by Jane herself!
Which is quite an achievement, given the breadth of Jane’s imagination evident in the ‘lost’ works we unearthed along the way.
In Lincoln we brought to light a sporting opus, ‘Mansfield Town Ladies FC’, replete with meddling oligarchs and goals galore, whilst Peterborough’s offering opened with the rare occurrence of an amputated leg thrown clean through the parlour window. It turned out to belong to a dastardly admiral, of course.
Twice Jane showed remarkable foresight (or, if you will forgive us, ‘force-sight’) in incorporating elements of a Galaxy Far Far Away, with Wells and Lancaster playing host to first a heroic, and then a decidedly villainous Lord Vader (or Darthy, in the former case), whilst the memory of the marauding wildebeest in Banbury still chills us to the bone.
‘A very strange stranger it must be who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme to make him wish to know it better’, wrote Jane in Persuasion, but she can hardly have imagined that ‘knowing it better’ would mean popping into the delightful Marine Theatre for a never before seen Regency amusement charting Lord Zayn’s departure from ‘No Direction’ (evading a devious but still perplexingly-present Gollum in the woods along the way).
And what a time we had in Lyme, bashing at chunks of rock shed by the Jurassic cliffs in search of fossils, and posing for windswept portraits on the Cobb, the salty air and the shriek of the seabirds overwhelming the senses just as they would have done for Anne Elliot and her steadfast Captain Wentworth.
Similarly diverting was Wells’ ancient ‘Chain Library’ – its crumbling volumes literally tethered to the shelves. There was, alas, no Jane Austen to be found there (it turns out monks and bishops were slow to cotton on to her considerable charms), but treasures as varied as a catalogue of unhappy fates that befell missionaries (sharpened sticks galore) and a centuries old naval pop-up book were plucked out for our delectation. Our convivial hosts also gifted us a frightening-looking tromboncino, which Miss Amy most innovatively made use of.
All in all we visited twenty wonderful towns, from the sprawling to the petite, and made too many gracious new friends to mention. We can’t wait to pack up our smocks and chemisettes, scramble into the Post Chaise and do it all again in 2017 – the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s passing.
“…autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness…” PERSUASION
The Austentatious Grand Tour is drawing to a close, but residents of Cranleigh, Lincoln, Bromsgrove, Lancaster, Kendal and London may still catch us before the year is out. The Times most graciously included us in their list of the ‘30 best shows to book for Christmas’ !
If you cannot join us in person, fear not. The Cast have been working tirelessly to entertain the nation, so why not feast your eyes upon their individual exploits below?
Amy Cooke-Hodgson has lent her talents to a thrilling array of projects of late, including this stellar turn for Save the Children. Off-screen, she has been baking like a goddess and designing creative delights under the sweet guise of Rowley & Cooke.
Andrew Hunter Murray is scattering fact catnip across the land in BBC Two’s No Such Thing As The News, and we are proud to report that his searing wit in both the QI and Private Eye podcasts has garnered him a prestigious award-nomination!
Cariad Lloyd has graced screens far and wide with recent appearances on QI and 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown. On the wireless, she has waxed lyrical on literature and improvisation for BBC Radio’s A Good Read and The Comedy Club.
Charlotte Gittins committed flagrant crimes against the English language in this short sketch, shot at the OED. Behind-the-scenes, she has been working with another beloved acronym, the BBC, filming documentaries in Russia and Romania.
Daniel Nils Roberts’s dulcet tones may be enjoyed in these podcasts, in which he performs alongside his Racing Minds cohorts. His film-making prowess, complete with a modest, yet masterful cameo, may also be admired here.
Graham Dickson is, ironically, too funny for words in this short film heralding the Collins 2016 Word of the Year. You may also spy him in Channel 5’s Borderline and on stage at The FA’s Charity Weekender from 26th-27th November.
Joseph Morpurgo has been commissioned by BBC Radio 4 to create a comedy series: Joseph Morpurgo’s Walking Tour. He appeared with Cariad and Rachel in Murder in Successville and stunned BBC Three with lost EastEnders plots.
Rachel Parris was declared Best Musical Comedy Act by What’s On London! Enjoy her lyrical prowess in this most athletic of music videos, catch her on stage in December and eagerly await her appearance in BBC Two’s Revolting.