Austen Found – The Undiscovered Musicals of Jane Austen
ConArtists @ Higher Ground – Studio
6:15pm, Thu 11 Mar 2010
It’s kind of tricky to find Higher Ground’s Studio; head over to AC Arts, meet someone at one of the not-exactly-signposted elevators, and you’re escorted up the lift, around several corners, down a bunch of corridors. Bloody hell, that labyrinth’ll thin the crowds out, I thought.
Wrong. The room was packed. Sixty, seventy people, maybe? More? Whatever – I’m stunned. I haven’t heard a lot of buzz around this show, so I’m genuinely amazed to see this many people here… and they were keen. Bubbling with anticipation. Mostly older women, too, though I realise I risk a massive kick in the bollocks for saying such a thing.
ConArtists comprised of four women, all clad in their Austen-ish best, including the delightful Penny Ashton, who acted as an emcee for the show, directing the other three women and the audience, as appropriate. First port of call: the democratically selected name of our lost-Austen, which our selected as “Pride and Perfection”. Then came the derivation of our Austen-name (I was Harry Tobybottom). And then came the performance of Pride and Perfection itself, with the four women filling the principle roles of Felicity, Amiable, Countenance, and Dozy (and their male interests, ably played with a simple costume change).
Now – what I didn’t realise was that Austen Found would be almost entirely ad-libbed.
And you know what? It was pretty bloody funny. In fact, the only thing that felt rehearsed was the YMCA signage during the inevitable ballroom dance sequence.
The ad-libbed songs, in particular, were absolutely brilliant – but I don’t want to take away from any other aspect of the performance. Because these ladies were bloody quick on their feet, knew their subject matter inside out, and had a real feel for what makes Austen Austen… and also what makes us laugh.
Was Austen Found the comedic highlight of the Fringe? Oh no. But it was a romping guffaw or twenty, all wrapped up with charm and grace.