Comedy review: Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel, Laughing Horse @ The Counting House (Venue 170), Edinburgh

Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel has become a runaway hit. Picture: Jane Barlow

Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel has become a runaway hit. Picture: Jane Barlow

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WHO would have thought it? People are queuing round the block at the Free Festival for an afternoon improv show based on the novels of Jane Austen. ****

Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel

Laughing Horse @ the Counting House 
(Venue 170)

Star rating: * * * *

Austentatious, in which a supersmart and terrifically funny group of actors and comics spirit up a “lost” Austen work with a title picked at random from a suggestion from the audience has become a runaway hit.

Today’s reconstructed classic – Sense and Incestibility – could have become a tasteless affair. But in the hands of Cariad Lloyd, Rachel Parris, Andrew Murray, Graham Dickson, Amy Cooke Hodgson and Joseph Morpurgo it becomes a delightfully absurd fable.

The Austen troupe, a mixture of comics and actors who have been working together for around a year, are brilliant at mimicking the speech patterns of Austen’s characters – avoiding anachronisms and recreating her wry and precise style of observation. They have some impressive improv tricks – such as appearing to read aloud together and always being sure to have someone around to catch a character when they are about to swoon.

It is so clever it is difficult to work out exactly how they do it. But this really is a story which is being woven together on the spot. Running gags and callbacks develop and grow and the players have tremendous fun setting each other improv challenges… such as asking: “What was that song…?” or “What was that joke…?”

In today’s improvised novel the overly close Lovelock family are thrown into disarray by a clash with their neighbour Karl Pilkington – a man obsessed with Christmas – who is also overly close to his own sister. There are misunderstandings, family secrets, a terrible carriage accident and lots of emotional moments. Miraculously the whole tangled mess is brought to an uplifting and happy ending.

It is a wonderful show – joyful, creative and a true homage to a novelist who was one of the greatest female humorists who ever lived.

• Until 26 August. Today 1:30pm.

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