Taking the novels of Jane Austen as their guide, Jessica Messenger and Esther Longhurst seek inspiration from members of the audience and then use the answers supplied to take off on an hour of rambunctious Regency-themed improvised comedy of manners.
With Messenger the self-proclaimed greatest fan of Austen’s works, and Longhurst proudly sharing her achievement of having read 6 whole chapters of Emma, the tone of performance veers more towards slapstick than scholarship. Anachronistic references abound, embraced by the rapidly spun plot line that owes more to the whims of the performers than any overarching plan, making this accessible to all from Austen buffs to those happily ignorant of her work.
The nature of improvisation means that no two performances will ever be the same, so no future audiences will get to enjoy the turns in fortune of sisters Henrietta and Clarinet, whose mother despairs of their unhealthy attachment to reading and developing personalities. Mr Grey and Mr Black, likewise, with their laudable devotion to the precept “Bros before Hoes” despite their own complicated needs to marry, with Mr Grey particularly keen to explore the implications of being a cousin but not really. Future audiences will probably not experience the sensation of being surrounded by a chorus of ducks as a mysteriously unchaperoned couple throw pieces of bread from the stage, but with audience participation making up its own part in the performance, there will surely be other delights that emerge, spontaneously, from the format.
Longhurst and Messenger are both experienced actors and improvisers, and have a warm connection with the audience, responding to feedback to develop scenes. Neither are precious about their parts insofar as the Austen aspect is concerned, with as much owed to analysis of various screen adaptations as to the books. The engagement between the two performers is strong, allowing mutual challenges to be raised, leading to inspired moments such as a Pachelbel’s Canon variation featuring the rap and chorus to Black Eyed Peas “Where is the Love?” Characters are switched out via an impressive collection of hats, musical tracks accompany instructions to sing and provide atmosphere at a ball and hobby horses provide transport between locations. Simple, yet effective, use of props and staging makes the hilarity flow as smoothly as possible.
Sense and Spontaneity is an occasional treat, and one that is well worth a visit by lovers of classic novels, millinery fans, stand-up comedy enthusiasts and devotees of the absurd twists and turns of intelligent improvisation.
Sense and Spontaneity
Devised and performed by Esther Longhurst and Jessica Messenger
Venue: Victoria Hall | 179 High Street Fremantle
Dates: 8 and 15 May 2015
Part of Fremantle Heritage Festival