REVIEW: Austentacious (Piccadilly theatre) ★★★★

Imagine what a lost Jane Austen novel might look like and perhaps you’d come up with something akin to ‘Seasonings and Seasonality’ – at least that’s the audience suggestion that won the day in Austentacious at the Piccadilly theatre this week.

Fully improvised across 90 minutes, the show was suitably peppered with jokes and some undoubtedly saltier than any Jane would have written (you can relax now, my terrible puns are done forthwith). A marjoram bong was never likely to turn up in Mansfield Park, but here it takes a turn about the room in order to quell the anxiety of a gentleman suitor; and one of our heroines finds herself doubling as both romantic matchmaker and checkout girl at Lidl.

The plot isn’t going to keep you in your seat, but the intelligence and verve of the performances will. Andrew Hunter Murray and Graham Dickson do some glorious comic sparring, and Cariad Lloyd is a delight in every scene she’s in. You can see why the show has gone from strength to strength since its first outing at Edinburgh in 2012, and part of that is the obvious comic rapport between the cast.

The suitably learned gentleman I took along as my plus one also noted the warmth and affection in the performances – not just between the actors, but towards Austen herself and the great gift she is to this kind of loving parody. There is pure pleasure here. Steering clear of the obvious improv elephant-traps – smuggery and self-congratulation – Austentacious is a witty, silly triumph.

Reviewed by April Delaney


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