I think anyone who’s ever acted would agree to some extent that treading the boards is terrifying. Liberating and amazing, yes, but terrifying. Add to that not knowing any of your lines, the plot or even your character, and you might just hide in the wings. That doesn’t seem to stop the company behind Austentatious though – a totally new, improvised Jane Austen play. On the contrary, where you would think the concept of total improvisation could be a catastrophic train wreck, the Milk Monitors throw themselves into the mad world of improvisation where nothing is agreed on and anything can happen. And not only that (which is pretty daredevil as it is): it has to be in the style of Jane Austen too.
Every night is new. The audience are greeted by actors in period costume and we are handed a piece of paper, and told to write a title that sounds like a Jane Austen novel: child-like excitement and curiosity fills the room. We are all scribbling away and trying to come up with clever ideas until the show starts and the papers collected. And then they’re off. The Milk Monitors start their spontaneous and hilarious journey based on one audience-made book title and off we go into the mad world of hidden Austen stories.
It’s exhilarating and slightly frightening watching them building the blocks of a play from scratch with no safety net whatsoever, for it can go wrong at any moment. Together they have to create a whole universe, characters, relationships and a storyline with obstacles, love and a happy ending. However the six actors are incredibly professional and improvise with such a sense of play and ease that we sometimes forget it isn’t a planned performance. All actors have great comic timing and the audience laughs their guts out trying to imagine how on earth the actors will link everything together. Though all are talented, Cariad Lloyd drives most of the play as she invents new hilarious plot lines to keep the performance moving forward.
Musician CJ Lodge is the icing on a very vibrant cake, playing the cello as a score to whatever absurdity is happing on stage. It really sets the mood for an Austen story, and it is almost believable that this is a hidden pearl from the famous author (forgetting modern references to WiFi, Virgin Media and beat-boxing, that is).
If you are looking for an exciting, fun night out where anything can happen, the boys are wearing waistcoats and the audience is setting the scene, then phone up Leicester Square Theatre as soon as you roll out of bed and demand a ticket for Austentatious. Or you can stalk them all around London at different venues – and if you are lucky enough to have your title performed, then you even have a shot at being an Austen playwright of some sort, even if it’s just for a night.
Austentatious is playing at Leicester Square Theatre one Sunday a month until 15 June. For more information and tickets, see the Leicester Square Theatre website or the Austentatious website for other performance dates.