Jane Austen, I’m sure we can all agree, is one of the all-time greats. A women ahead of her time, indulging both in scathing social commentary and in bonnets, and – as Dr Sam Patten, Austen scholar (played by Cariad Lloyd) informs us, the founder of the first Prezzo. It is just a shame that our enjoyment of her works is limited to just six novels – and this is where Austentatious comes in.
At the start of the night, they take suggestions for a title from the audience – Strength and Stability is considered, as is Liz Bennet’s Baby – before settling on Darcy in the Dark, one of Austen’s lost classics. It tells the story of how Darcy (played in this instance by Joseph Morpurgo, who sadly never emerges dripping wet from a lake) loses and regains his eyesight and to go into any more detail about the plot would be entirely pointless, because it was completely improvised – and therefore, convoluted, tangential and absolutely hilarious.
This has to be one of the strongest ensemble casts in the West End; there are no weak links and it is hard to pinpoint a stand out performance. Graham Dickson is certainly in particularly fine form, but every single performer has the audience in stitches at one point or other. Not to say that every joke lands but the vast majority do, the balance often tipping from funny to downright laugh-out-loud brilliant.
Improvisation comedy is a strange beast, and takes a little adjusting to – by its very nature there is no room for technical polish, but this is merely another conduit for comedy as the actors have to work around doors that won’t open, lights that dim or microphones that cut out. Andrew D Edwards’ set is simple but charming, and minimal props and costume changes allow for many moments of mimed comedy.
On a snowy Sunday evening this is pure escapism, light, family-friendly and hilarious. It’s possibly a little frivolous to be everyone’s taste but I can tell you this: it is a truth universally acknowledged that you should catch this show before it’s too late.