JANE AUSTEN WITH DEAD VIKINGS AND LIVE PROFANITY
The hour contained a haunted Viking burial ground, a dubious Spaniard called Senor Knobflap, several titled ladies in sprigged muslin and an 18c eczema epidemic. Not that any of that will turn up again, not if this improvisation troupe is honest about its spontaneity.
It is not quite fair to judge improv shows on one night only, though I did fall in love forever with the brilliance of Showstoppers, the musical-theatre makers, on the basis of one nocturnal Edinburgh romp. This younger sextet (plus discreet ‘cellist) came with a warm reputation from fringegoers and the Latitude festival, and performs three times a month in London, so I was curious. Their premise is that most of Jane Austen’s 700-odd novels are lost, so the audience offers titles which they, in flawless period costume, promptly perform. My niece and I were rather hoping that they would pick ours out of the hat – “Mansfield Shark” in which Fanny defeats Jaws. But it was “Wit and Profanity” which became their title, and even with a butler called Shitt it took them a while to hook onto the profanity bit.
There is real talent there, but even with a happy rowdy audience on this particular night the group seemed, to use a shepherding term, less well-hefted than they should be. Seamless improv depends not only on picking up clues fast, but on a willingness to get laughs from fellow-players who get painted into an impossible corner, and letting them struggle while ripples of laughter build. Here it felt – despite some promising openings – as if some cast members were leaping in too early, too anxiously, or abruptly distracting us with unnecessary mugging.
When the more measured and watchful cast members – notably Andrew Murray and Rachel Parris – were let alone we got some good , even Austenian, moments of pleasingly awkward courtship. And Joseph Morpurgo made the well-worn joke of a comedy Spanish accent surprisingly fresh: the lad has a certain edge of mania which may take him far. “You must forgive me” he snarls at one point: “It is a Spanish custom to bluster into the bedroom of your landlady” . As for the hospital he unaccountably plans to build, with confident grandiosity he claims it as an important innovation. “Up till 1813 in England, everyone has died. Of everything”. Nice. I suspect that on other evenings, the third and fourth mice will romp home.
http://www.austentatiousimpro.com for dates at Leicester Square and the Wheatsheaf pub, Rathbone Place