Austentatious at the Corn Exchange, June 10

I greet Austentatious with apprehension. Jane Austen is not everyone’s cup of Earl Grey. Too formal and restrained, methinks; dropped hankies, attacks of the vapours, dodgy britches, and forty words where three will do. But these guys are said, according to Time Out, to be ‘one of the funniest improv shows out there’.

I must say, my first impressions, particularly of the gentlemen, is that they are really rather ornamental.

One is suddenly enthused.

Austentatious have worked together on this show for five years, and have improvised together for ten. Between them they have an impressive comedy CV, and Cariad Lloyd has appeared in Peep Show, QI, and Have I Got News For You.

The ‘plot’ concerns the amusements of the Chesterton-Rutherford sisters’ efforts to furnish themselves with suitors. Other characters are the hapless Barney, who has been given bad advice about courting, Jack, the brother who thinks he is a dog, dastardly Dr Menkin, Anna the randy housemaid, and the much-admired Cecily Fortescue.

It’s not for Austen purists, this, and I curse the presence of the ugly (but comfortable and functional, she added quickly) chairs on the Ceres Hall stage. It would have looked prettier in the Town Hall, and props would have enhanced the show. But oh, it’s hilarious! The cast incorporate references to Devizes; ‘there are adders in Devizes, they come down from the moors’, and to event sponsors Haine & Smith. There’s toilet humour, physical comedy, and a rather melodious cello. Plot suggestions from the audience include ‘Let It Suffice’, ‘Jane Austen’s Gentleman’s Relish’, and the title around which they weave the second half, ‘Charlotte, the Siren of Devizes.’ There’s an incongruous scene in a kebab shop and existential investigation into the derivation of the word ‘banging.’ Someone has a problem with their knuckles that they need someone else to examine, and someone tries to woo someone by getting fifty farm hands to make them an offensive crop circle.

It’s camp, it’s swift and witty, and it has the audience in delicately embroidered stitches.

Austentatious are, in the words of another satisfied Festival-goer, ‘Huge fun!’

More Earl Grey, anyone?

Gail Foster