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 theatre.
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.
- Eileen Strong