AUSTENTATIOUS is an entirely improvised comedy play, wherein freewheeling comic minds conjure up a "lost’ Jane Austen novel based on nothing more than a title suggested by the audience.

After the likes of Bath To The Future, We Will Frock You and Northanger Abba, what will Saturday's Grand Opera House audience suggest, on the bravura improv troupe's return to York's Great Yorkshire Fringe at 4pm that afternoon?

Any five or six of Amy Cooke-Hodgson, Andrew Hunter Murray, Cariad Lloyd, Charlotte Gittins, Daniel Nils Roberts, Graham Dickson, Joseph Morpurgo and Rachel Parris will be in Regency attire in York, and Amy definitely will be among them as Austentatious "show you Austen as you've never seen her before, whether you've read all of Jane's works or none of them".

"The show began eight years ago and we've been touring for the past five," says Amy, who has appeared in Alan Carr's Spectacular, La Boheme and Howard Goodall’s Girlfriends. "It all started with me and Rachel working with Andy and Joseph: we met in a student improv group, The Oxford Imps, and decided to move to London. We'd done short-form improv games but wanted to do a show with a narrative and decided we should do it in a literary style.

"We did Austen for a year and intended to Dickens and Shakespeare next, but Austen just seemed to fit."

Why? "Her stories are so universal, we all recognise the heroines in them," says Amy. "Austen was the proto-feminist with these strong heroines working against the societal norm, and her characters and stories are all very accessible and will still be comprehensible to those who haven't read her books."

What does the audience participation involve, Amy? "As they come in, we ask them to think about a possible title for an Austen novel she didn't write, or maybe was lost," she says. "We have someone in the troupe who pretends to be an Austen academic, asking them to shout out names for novels.

"We'll talk about a couple we can't use tonight and invariably the third one is the one we're most likely to like. We don't use them if they're similar to something we've done before, or if they're offensive, we'll move on.

"But we have people who come regularly who get wise to how it works, waiting for the third opportunity. We'll then improvise it on the hoof. People have asked us if there's a structure or pre-arranged characters to lift off the peg, but there aren't.

"That's why we surprise each other with what we say and that's part of the delight of entertaining, shocking or surprising people. Quite often, when people come to see a show like ours, they're really coming to see the relationships between us, as some of us have been performing together for ten years, so we really trust each other.

"But it wouldn't be anywhere near as much fun if we didn't have input from the audience. We rely on them to kick-start us."

Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel, Great Yorkshire Fringe, Grand Opera House, York, Saturday, 4pm. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or

Charles Hutchinson