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

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)

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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.