Each time the cast of Austentatious perform they put on an entirely improvised comedy play. Based on nothing more than a title suggested by the audience, the show is always different – and always hilarious.
Ben Keegan chats with Cariad Lloyd, one of Austentatious’ hugely talented performers as well as a well-known writer, actor and comedian, about where the idea for the period improv show came from.
How’s life after Edinburgh [Festival Fringe] treating you? Are you all in a state of detox/hiding?
Some of us are! We are a wide spectrum of party hounds to home birds. In fact this Edinburgh, I was up at 5:30 a.m. having breakfast when I encountered a certain Mr Graham Dickson [her co-star in Austentatious], only just returning from his night out. You may make a clean guess where I am on the spectrum. I basically carry my own nest.
Tell me about how this period improv show came about?
We all knew each other from different impro groups – although Rachel [Parris], Amy [Cooke-Hodgson], Andrew [Hunter Murray] and Joseph [Morpurgo] had all been in the Oxford Imps together. After University, Amy and Rachel thought it would be fun to do Jane Austen-inspired improv. Amy called in myself and Graham [Dickson], then a few years later Charlotte [Gittins] joined us, and now we have Daniel [Nils Roberts] too. No one quite expected it to take off in the way it has!
Why Jane Austen?
We all liked Jane Austen, some of us had studied her, some of us just loved her books – but we all loved the world she created. We were fortunate that this also works very well with improv. Her bold characters and witty dialogue lend themselves extremely well to what we do.
How do you or would you deal with corpsing onstage? Not suggesting you have that mind!
Oh I’m afraid it does occasionally! We work hard not to, but sometimes it’s impossible. With improvisation, the performer is hearing the line for the first time, the same as the audience are, so if it is incredibly funny, sometimes you can’t help but react. We try very hard to behave ourselves, though, as you don’t want to break character – but many a scene has continued through tears of laughter.
A lot of people are saying we need more working-class drama. Any plans of a doing a Shane Meadows or a Roddy Doyle improv show?
Oh, that would be wonderful! I do feel that although Jane Austen deals in a very gentile, middle-class world that doesn’t mean she is inaccessible to someone who isn’t middle class. Her stories and characters are good, so anyone can enjoy them. We try to do a funny show, whether you love Jane Austen or can relate to that world, we still want you to have a entertaining evening, regardless of your feelings on cutlery placement.
What’s the hardest suggestion you’ve had from an audience member?
We try and say there are no hard suggestions, it’s our job to make them work. Saying that, it was quite hard when we got Hamlet – as to be fair someone else had already done that very well.
And the silliest?
The silliest are probably the excellent Austen puns. We go through the hat after the show and tweet our favourite unused titles. This Edinburgh some of my favourites included: “What a man, what a man, what a mighty good Mansfield Park”, “Brexit: The Great British Break Off” and “Mrs Bennet and the Temple of Doom”. We are always delighted and amazed at the suggestions our audience come up with!
Sum up Austentatious for me in three words.
Delightful. Silly. Improvised.
Any room for a Northern Irish actor? Don’t say the stables!
Of course! If you can provide your own livery and chaise and four, you can start work immediately! (Two days off a year provided).
Don’t just take Cariad Lloyd’s word about how much fun the period improv show is, check out this video from Austentatious:
Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel is playing at Leicester Square Theatre and other venues across the UK. Tickets are available now on Ticketmaster.co.uk. You can follow Ben Keenan on Twitter right here.