Austentatious

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Jane Austen fan Hannah Nepil is unexpectedly charmed by a brilliant tap-dancing tribute show at the Landor Theatre

  • I take my Austen neat. No ice, lemon, or even novel necessary. I find it interferes in my communion with Ms Austen, courtesy of the BBC. I clench my fists when Mr Collins mops his glistening brow. I draw the curtains when Elizabeth spits Darcy’s proposal back in his face, and when they first make eyes at each other over the Pemberley pianoforte I rewind like a fiend possessed. It’s all part of the joy of television.

    Since very little gets me quite as riled as the desecration of other Austen adaptationa, 'Austentatious' should really have me fuming. Here’s the plot summary: stage manager Sam is putting on a production of 'Pride and Prejudice', but the cast is not up to scratch. Mr Bingley is struggling to bin the narcotics, Elizabeth Bennet is battling to conquer her Australian accent and Mr Wickham is there only in figurine form. I can truthfully say that I wasn’t expecting Jane Bennet to get kidnapped by a marauding bear. Nor did I forsee Elizabeth taking relationship counselling from the Statue of Liberty. Maybe my ignorance was bliss because had I known, I might never have gone. And if I hadn’t gone I would never have realised how Jane Austen and musical theatre could make such an attractive crossbreed.

    Punctuated by spangly musical numbers, this is a satirical ode to all the foibles of classic novel adaptations. From laughable plot embellishments, gratuitous violence, cringeworthy simulations of Austen’s syntax, and even Colin Firth’s wet shirt, nothing gets overlooked. While ostensibly as Austenian as a Big Mac, this parody defends the importance of the original novel by puncturing the cult of the adapatation. Somehow between the glitter and fuscia jump suits, the main plot-line of the book merges seamlessly with the show’s as the level-headed Sam herself begins to take on the character of Elizabeth. She’s scoffed at by the cast for her merely managerial position. Yet she manages to bag the leading man (who plays Darcy) right under the nose of his girlfriend, whose vanity would render her a perfect Miss Bingley if that part was cast.

    This is just as much a send-up of the cut-throat rigours of musical theatre as it is a tribute to Austen and these two strands work together: the brazen Lydia doubles up as the self-promoting, competitive stereotype associated with luvvies. Boasting sharp lyrics, super-slick acting and an utterly hilarious script, this is exactly the kind of London fringe musical that ought to get snapped up by the West End.

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