‘More the equivalent of Pussy Riot’: Rachel Parris on Austentatious

Rachel Parris attending the Virgin TV British Academy Television Awards 2018

Rachel Parris attending the Virgin TV British Academy Television Awards in 2018 - Credit: PA

After a global pandemic and a new baby, Rachel Parris said she is delighted to be back on the Leicester Square Theatre stage alongside improv group Austentatious.

Austentatious aims to pull off a completely new, totally improvised, and always hilarious Jane Austen-style story every single night. Past "lost" novels from which they have taken their nightly inspiration include Strictly Come Darcy, The Empire Line Strikes Back, and Game of Scones.

The rotating cast is made up of Cariad Lloyd, Rachel Parris, Graham Dickson, Charlotte Gittins, Daniel Nils Roberts, Lauren Shearing, Amy Cooke-Hodgson and Joseph Morpurgo. Having started as a group of friends who just loved improv, Austentatious has become a huge success.

I caught up with Rachel just two days after she delved back into the world of romance and needlework. I asked her how exactly Austentatious went from "mucking around in a room above a pub" to gracing the West End.

"We were torn at the beginning over which [author] we’d like to do – would we do a Dickens, or a Brontë, or something like that? But we decided to go for Jane Austen, and I think it was the right choice.

"Jane Austen, for one thing, is more dialogue heavy than those other authors. Those books have a large cast, so there’s a fun character for everyone to play. I think, as well, the witty dialogue that people know her for really suits improv very well. Much more so than a long Dickensian description of a street."

The cast of Austentatious including Rachel Parris and Cariad Lloyd will be performing at Leicester Square Theatre until June

The cast of Austentatious will be at Leicester Square Theatre from the 15th Feb 2022 to the 27th June 2022 - Credit: Matt Crockett

She says audiences are "cottoning on" to improv’s potential to be good.

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"It’s not the risk that people think it is. That always annoys me, when people are like: 'We could go see an improv show, but it’s a bit of a risk.' 

"It’s actually not more of a risk than many other shows, to be honest. It might even be better."

Rachel emphasises that Austen-style stories are "really fun" for the female comics of Austentatious.

"Of course, the women of the group love that Jane Austen wrote brave, feisty women who know what they want and go after it, and so that’s fun to play as well.

"Some people who don’t know Jane Austen very well think of it as simpering nonsense and fans and women fainting, but it's the opposite really. If you appropriately translate how the women behaved in her novels to today, it’s more the equivalent of Pussy Riot, I would say."

Rachel Parris on the Graham Norton Show

Rachel Parris on the Graham Norton Show - Credit: PA Media on behalf of So TV/PA Wire

Returning to the world of Jane Austen-inspired improv comedy comes with its own challenges, though. Rachel is grateful that she joined the tour after the other performers had already started, as it gave her a 'soft landing.'

"Improv may not seem like it, but it’s something that you need to practise as a skill as much as anything else. You also have to practise the language of Jane Austen, and the physicality of occupying a stage in that way."

But being a little rusty around the edges didn’t stop the group from doing what they do best – enjoying themselves.

"We were so giddy with excitement to see each other that the shows were certainly full of energy, let's say – the first few shows were probably a bit mad, but full of joy."

Rachel’s advice for anyone thinking of getting a ticket is to "engage with the idea".

"Bring a title – it doesn’t have to be clever or witty – just anything at all you can make up will be so helpful to us and gratefully accepted. And forget about the improv aspect and just enjoy a new Jane Austen style story that you’ve never seen before."

Austentatious runs until June 27 and tickets are available from www.leicestersquaretheatre.com/austentatious/

The cast of Austentatious including Rachel Parris and Cariad Lloyd will be performing at Leicester Square Theatre until June

The cast of Austentatious will be at Leicester Square Theatre from the 15th Feb 2022 to the 27th June 2022 - Credit: Matt Crockett