Amy Cooke-Hodgson is delighted to get gigs either side of her family home in Chichester.
She and her partners in comedy took Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel to Brighton Dome Concert Hall on Sunday, September 23; now they play Portsmouth’s New Theatre Royal on Saturday, October 13.
Every single show the cast conjure up a brand-new, riotously-funny, ‘lost’ Jane Austen novel based on nothing more than a title suggested by the audience – a formula which Amy admits she thought would last maybe a year. It is now in its eighth.
And it all started in Chichester…
“I was at Chi High. I was at the girls school until I did my GCSEs and then I went to the boys school to do my A levels. I left in 96, and I was encouraged to get a degree. I did environmental chemistry which has got nothing to do with my career now!
“But I was in all the school productions from year seven until I left, and I did lots at university as well. But then I was a management consultant for a short period. After my degree, I got offered a job in Sydney working for the Olympic Games. I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I took it. I stayed there for a little while and then I came back to London and went into a consultancy job there, but I just missed the arts.”
So she took a big pay-cut and changed direction. As she says, she just wasn’t cut out for a job in an office behind a computer: “The arts are my passion, and the last ten years of my life have been great. I have reached an age where a lot of people might be married with a house and children and I am not, but I have had a very happy artistic career.”
Austentatious has been a massive part of it. The four of them met in Oxford, they moved to London and added a couple more to the group… and devised the show.
“Rachel Parris and I are huge period-drama fans, and we wanted to do something that involved dressing up and was theatrical rather than just jeans and a T-shirt improv which we did at the beginning. We just wanted to up the theatrical stakes, and we both loved Jane Austen’s work, and two of the boys had done their dissertations on Jane Austen. It seemed obvious material. It is very British, it is quintessential English romance…
“We thought we would do Jane Austen for maybe a year and then move on to maybe Dickens or Shakespeare and we would become known as a literary improv show, but Austen was such a success that we just stuck with it. We have never got bored. There are only six printed novels, but the characters are timeless. Everyone knows somebody a bit like Mr Collins. Everybody knows somebody a bit like Mr Darcy. And we will just keep going for as long as people want to see us!”
The cast is made up: Cariad Lloyd (Peep Show, Murder in Sucessville, QI, Have I Got News For You), Rachel Parris (The Mash Report, The IT Crowd, Murder In Successville), Joseph Morpurgo (Edinburgh Comedy Awards Best Show nominee, Odessa, Harry & Paul’s Story of the Twos), Amy Cooke-Hodgson (Alan Carr’s Spectacular, Olivier Award winning La Boheme, Howard Goodall’s Girlfriends) Andrew Hunter Murray, (No Such Thing As A Fish, The Mash Report), Graham Dickson (The Messiah, Scooter Thomas, The Pride, Below The Belt), Charlotte Gittins (Folie à Deux, Grand Theft Impro) and Daniel Nils Roberts (Racing Minds). Each show stars a varying line-up of five-six members of the cast.