Austen purists should probably avoid - if they haven’t left by the
interval, then Elizabeth Bennet’s climactic, New York-based tap-off
with her Pirate Queen sister Lydia, will surely send them running back
to their texts to double-check the footnotes.
For those prepared to throw out any preconceived ideas about period
pieces and Regency reserve, you’re in for a wonderfully whimsical night
of clog dancing, mechanical bears and oh-so-amateur dramatics.
Austentatious features that old favourite, the play within a play. Pride and Prejudice,
as put on by the Camberford Regional Arts Panel (do your own acronyms),
turns into an increasingly troubled and bizarre production, with
director Dominic (Ilan Goodman) and high-kicking choreographer/writer
Emily (Fem Belling) jostling for control.
The faultless seven-strong cast convince with their hilarious
portrayals, delivering a pacey performance, finely balanced between
songs and scenes.
Bearing more than a fleeting resemblance to Colin Firth, Richard
Meek manages to be both damply hunky when playing wet-shirted Darcy,
and shyly sweet as nice-guy David. Couple this with a convincing
rapport with stage manager Sam (a beautifully voiced Cassidy Janson),
and you’ve got a romantic pairing to rival any previous interpretation.
Musical comedies are often lucky to provoke the odd giggle, but this
production had the audience in hysterics, with comedy values to surpass
many a sitcom; some fine individual comic flair from Simon Lipkin, as
stoner Blake, who entertains with his Connery-esque “Mish Bennett” and
his cigarette lighter-waving Statue of Liberty.
Gone are Austen’s subtle witticisms, but director Dominic’s mixed
metaphors, such as “Let’s burn that bridge when we cross it,” would
surely meet with author approval.
The sharply-written script is complemented by some catchy tunes, full of Sondheim-style, staccato wit and barbed asides.
At times there’s too much going on, the one act per second technical
rehearsal being a case in point; be sure not to blink and miss Jenna
Boyd’s delightful, momentary mime of how Jane Bennet gets ill on the
way to Netherfield.
The pub theatre environment and ropey backdrops add to the
experience, with the production set in the world of £5/head regional
Austentatious certainly succeeds in sending up the
increasingly outrageous ideas writers and choreographers come up with
to stamp their mark on a classic. As one lyric tells, “Somehow the
Austen got lost in translation,” well I, for one, loved being bemused
and amused by their novel interpretation.