[All images courtesy of Austentatious copyright: Richard Davenport]
As a Jane Austen fan, theatre aficionado and a big fan of any night out that involves laughing until my sides hurt- Austentatious are right up my street. I caught them at Poppleton Live Festival earlier in the year for a night of fun and frolicks Austen style and was eager to interview the group behind the petticoats to find out more. I chatted to Austenatious member Joseph Morpurgo ahead of performances at the Edinburgh Fringe about wearing tights, accidentally swearing in front of school children and the oh so eccentric behaviour of the British public…
TSOTA: Where did the idea for Austentatious come from?
JM: We formed Austentatious about four years ago. All the folk in the group were experienced improvisers in their own right, and wanted to start a show with a distinct theme and feel. The novels of Jane Austen gave us plenty to work with: a clear aesthetic and sense of place; an emphasis on character, relationships and storytelling; and an opportunity for the boys to wear tights without the censure of their peer group.
TSOTA: How would you describe how the show works to someone who has not seen it before?
JM: Austentatious is an hour-long comic story in the style of Jane Austen – and it’s completely made-up on the spot. As you walk in, you’re asked to write down an imaginary book title on a slip of paper. We then randomly pick out one of these and perform said story, in full period costume and with live musical accompaniment.
TSOTA: What is the strangest book title you have been given to perform?
JM: Too many to recall – the Great British public have proven to be a very eccentric bunch – but let’s plump for ‘Snakes On A Horse Drawn Carriage’.
TSOTA: If you were to make up a book title on the spot right now what would it be?
JM: Phwoaarthanger Abi. It’s a tribute to one-time Richard And Judy presenter turned glamour model Abi Titmuss.
TSOTA: What is your favourite Austen novel?
JM: Persuasion. Tight as a drum.
TSOTA: What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened on stage during a show?
JM: Normally the embarrassing bits end up becoming the really fun moments, so it’s hard to say, but I do remember a (very rare) instance of a severe swear word when a group of schoolchildren were in.
TSOTA: Your shows at the Edinburgh fringe have been sell out performances- what do you think has made Austentatious such a success?
JM: The Austen concept has definitely helped get improv tenderfoots through the door, but hopefully the quality of the show, the emphasis on telling a nuanced story, and the dynamic between the players has kept them coming back!
TSOTA: What would you say to encourage someone to come along to one of your shows?
JM: It’s completely unique every time, which creates the sort of crackle of excitement in the room that it’s hard to find elsewhere. If the idea of watching a completely impromptu Jane Austen story piques your curiosity, we’d heartily advise you to come along.
TSOTA: I caught your performance in Poppleton, York (great show by the way). Other than the Edinburgh Fringe dates do you have any other plans to come back up North any time soon?
JM: The Fringe is the main one for now, but we’ve had a string of lovely gigs performing in the North, so hopefully will be back in the New Year – if not before.
TSOTA: I know that you also perform your own comedy shows. What projects are the rest of the cast involved in aside from Austentatious?
JM: Plenty: in our ranks are comics and presenters (with credits ranging from Have I Got News For You to Sky’s Thronecast), actors, podcasters (QI’s No Such Thing As A Fish), gigging comedians, improv teachers, musical performers and plenty more.
Interview by Bethany Ashcroft
Catch Austentatious at the Edinburgh Fringe from Thursday 6th to Monday 31st August. For more information click this link
If you are in Edinburgh on Monday 17th August, join them for Crosstentatious at 11pm. For one night only, the gentlemen slip into fine gowns & the ladies don manly breeches to raise money for Waverley Care! Find out more here