Austentatious!: An Improvised Novel
On the evening of Monday, the eleventh of March 2013, I experienced my ideal night of merry-making. Of course, it all starts in a pub; however, I was not drawn by the typical attractions of an English pub. Upon entering The Old Queen’s Head in Islington, I was struck by the beauty and comforts of the room.
But the true magnificence of The Old Queen’s Head was fully revealed once I climbed the stairs into the Victorian Room. Several very well dressed and polite young ladies and gentlemen, dressed head-to-toe in full Regency garb, greeted me. Finally, my ideal night realized: live Jane Austen entertainment. This group of self-proclaimed “literary mischief” makers call themselves the Milk Monitors, and they perform improvised comedy based on “lost” Jane Austen novels. The troupe often performs at the Leicester Square Theatre as well as the Wheatsheaf off Oxford Street. This was their debut night at the Old Queen’s Head, and I cannot imagine a better venue for this show. The Victorian decoration and intimacy of the room was perfect for a small improv performance.
Upon entering the room and paying a mere five pounds sterling at the door, I was amused by the stamp which was pressed on my hand—a large, cursive “A.” This is my kind of nightclub, I thought. The actors asked each of the audience members to write down a suggestion of a fictional Jane Austen book title that we would like to see performed. This proved to be a much more challenging task than I expected, and I struggled for some time to think of a witty title. Sadly, the pressure proved too much for my nerves, and I was forced to hastily scribble something about Harriet Smith as a vampire hunter, which I think has become an incredibly cliché, fictional occupation in this day and age.
In order to illustrate the immense humor of Austentatious!, One need only look at their own description on Facebook : “Chock-full of wit, flirtation, and dastardly behaviour.” The troupe chose to perform the suggested title of “The Crisis of Victoria’s Secret,” which was full of humor and mischief, indeed. The story featured two men, a young man and his godfather, who travel to Bath, characterized as a sinful, licentious place as opposed to the so-called purity of London.
The godfather constantly warns the young man not to meet the same fate as his father, who went mad with seeing too many ladies’ ankles in Bath. They encounter two sisters, a Presbyterian priest, who punishes immorality with a “Presbyterian Slap” across the cheek, and his wife. The two sisters try to protect their virtue in Bath, but it soon becomes apparent that one of the sisters, Victoria, has been to Bath before, a signal of her hidden shame.
The young man and his godfather get into all sorts of mischief, including crashing their carriage into a hospital, which is undertaken with the highest degree of joviality. Just before the interval, it is revealed that the godfather and Victoria have been “acquainted” in the past, hinting at nature of her “secret.” After the interval, the characters all meet at the fashionable Peregrine ball, where all sorts of curious “European” dances take place.
The godfather reveals Victoria’s secret, that he has indeed seen her ankles, but the godson, who has become enamored with Victoria, proclaims that he cares not for her past indiscretion. Thus ends a tasteful, witty Austenesque story done with a contemporary sensibility, which affectionately pokes fun at the standards of morality and etiquette of the Regency period.
Austentatious! was one of the top ten best-reviewed shows of the Edinburgh Fringe and they also have received very positive reviews from The Times, The Guardian, and Chortle: The UK Comedy Guide. You can check out their website at www.austentatiousimpro.com as well as follow them on Twitter @austenimpro or visit their Facebook page: Austentatious! An Improvised Novel for more information about the troupe and their performance dates.
Featured image: The Austentatious! cast
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