"A Take-off in Spanish Lace"
by Sheila Cornelius for remotegoat on 10/11/11

'Austentatious: An Improvised Novel' at The Compass, Angel

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen wrote only six novels, but comedy impro collective, The Milk Monitors claim it's more like 572. Luckily for us, they are performing every other Tuesday at The Compass, and are 'committed to returning this wealth of hitherto unknown riches to its rightful owners: the public.'

Doubts about authenticity are inevitable, especially as most have of the 'lost' works have titles like last night's offering: 'The Skydiving Garden Party'; however, it had all the hallmarks of an Austen potboiler.

Derbyshire's most eligible bachelor is invited to an outdoor soiree by the unmarried Jenner sisters, who've fallen for his eighteenth century mail-out technique. Newly returned from fighting the French, Captain Drake has corresponded with both. Pink-frilled Mathilda believes the letter she received trumps her sister's postcard, but both are confident of receiving a proposal at the suggested midnight tryst. Meanwhile, a neighbouring pair of garden designers is planning to deck the venue.

Which sister will be chosen? Does the limb-lopping Lothario have honourable intentions? Is the entertainment to be spoiled by an excess of 'light-refracting' Spanish lace? Will the audience be aware that the characters don't seem to know which county they live in, or will they be laughing too much to notice?

Rachel Parris as fresh-faced Matilda and Amy Cooke-Hodgson as Caroline, sulking under her parasol, amuse with some well-timed sisterly sniping; Cariad Lloyd is comical as the ditsy half of the garden-design partnership, and hilarious as a screechy-voiced maid with her bonnet askew. Most of the laughs of the evening come from the men, with mangled sentences and effete hand-twirling from Joseph Morpurgos's garden expert and Graham Dickson's scoundrelly portrayal of the brazen Captain who shocks his traditionally-minded father. He's affably presented by Andy Murray as 'a five-star General in an army that doesn't give stars'.

The upstairs room at The Compass makes a fine Georgian drawing room, with pastel walls and a gilt-framed mirror, a chandelier and fairy-lights adding a festive touch. Guests are greeted by the cast in costume while Carol Lodge wrings tunes with noticeably ironic undertones from her cello. Tickets are miniature copies of Penguin paperback covers with the titles missing, which the audience are encouraged to fill in before they leave. They provide a witty overture to an hour of poking fun at a cherished national treasure.

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