I am a real Jane Austen fan. I’ve read all her books and seen all the movies and so I was really looking forward to this improv show, where a different Austen ‘novel’ is created every performance. And I was not disappointed.
Proceedings began with one of the players in the guise of a Miss Austen expert, picking the title of the new novel from the audience’s suggestions. There was no chance at all of it being fixed: the basket was laden with suggestions gathered as we all came into the theatre.
And so, once the title Irons, Dogs and Top Hats was revealed, the cast of six (four men and two women, accompanied by a musician, also improvising on violin) – all dressed in full period costume – took up their positions ready to begin.
We are quickly introduced to Jack Pennybags, an immature 19-year-old whose best friend Jasper is only seven and, unlike his school friends, beardless. The story unfolded without many dogs, but with plenty of magical top hat moments, such as the instant transformation of gender.
The cast is slick, focused and totally on the same page. They never missed an opportunity, especially to pick up on any slight hesitation or a misuse of word, using errors to enhance the already bizarre storyline. None of the scenes lasted too long (often a fault in improv), and best of all, the performers looked like they were having such a good time together that the audience wanted to be a part of it. Their generosity with each other enhanced and amplified their skill, but never at each other’s expense. They could even be forgiven for the occasional sin of corpsing, such was the nature of some of the offers made by the players.
And so in true Jane Austen style, the boy gets the girl and the army led by Miss Topham defeated the French (the audience), by ironing their faces flat. But of course!
It was a joyful hour of frivolity and I defy anyone not be entertained by this concept. For tomorrow it will be a completely different novel. And don't worry: you really don't need to be a Jane Austen fan to appreciate it either. Brilliant.