It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a successful show in possession of good reviews, must be in want of a bit of an upgrade.
And so, it would seem mighty churlish to upbraid Austentatious for their first major move this year, namely, a switch from the Free Fringe to the paid programme. Perhaps less so to whine at their second development, that of an apparent decrease in the quality of their Austen pastiche – not least in light of the adequate example above of the difficulty of retaining sense and dignity in any such endeavour.
But there it is. The nub of the matter here is that paid-for Austentatious simply isn't, well, as Austenny as in times past. Of course, given that the group improvise an Austen novel from scratch each afternoon, there's bound to be some variation across the ouvre. But there's a looseness here which feels routine, and which belies the group's eminent talent. An abundance of lazy modernisms means that any departures from nineteenth-century parody (tonight, for instance, a sonnet about a boom box) don't chime in delicious contrast to what could be tight, disciplined pastiche. Austen's daring forms—exaggerated disunity of place, for instance—aren't as lovingly replicated tonight in this 'lost novel' which takes place, rather boringly, in one location.
This is, to an extent, splitting lace. Austentatious remains a feat of long-form improvisation with laughs comparable in rate and scale to oh so many prepared sets across the Fringe. At times tonight, it's bodice-breakingly funny.