Living in Bath can put you in some weird and wonderful situations at times. The most marvellous Jane Austen Festival has to be one of those for me! Every year in the middle of September, Austen fans from all over the world join us in Bath for a week of promenading in Regency clothing and attending balls at the Assembly Rooms. It's fantastic!
Through the Natural Theatre Company, I had the pleasure of performing in TWO Jane Austen Festival events this year - Austen Undone (a walking tour) and Austen Dilemma (an improvised theatrical).
Austen Undone told the untold, lost story of Jane's first novel written in Bath (not really, we made it up) and followed the story of twin girls, sent to Bath by their mother to stay with their Uncle SIr Elliot Pulteney who should find them each a suitable husband. As one of the twins, Henrietta Park, I had the pleasure of meeting the audience second and taking them on for 20 minutes as we discussed my part in the story - my family, my new feminist novel, love, sending letters (or not, in this case), and of course finishing off with a parasol duel with my twin having sent a drippy priest to go and declare his love for her!
We had an incredible time performing and it was very busy - including 6 sell out performances on the first day! The show as a whole went on for about an hour and a quarter and a new one began every half an hour, so as soon as I was done with my duel it was back to the start to pick up the next tour! It worked brilliantly and had a good response. I loved performing and playing with comic timing, as every audience is different and responds slightly differently. Having the tour on my own for about half the time I was with them was quite daunting at first but I adored it once we got into the flow and I found my patter and manner in the character to freely perform.
Austen Dilemma was another absolute blast, the following weekend! We had a day to prepare ourselves and come up with a structural idea and bounce some ideas around in character. Not very long at all, really! But it was supposed to be improvised so we didn't want to exhaust all of our ideas in rehearsing! The idea of the show was that Jane Austen (who, herself, was present!!... in the form of Alison Campbell) had been asked to cut a character from her novel Pride & Prejudice as it was too long. The characters up for the chop were Mrs Bennett (Jill Myers), Mr Collins (Piers Wehner) and Lydia Bennett (played by myself, Katy Jane!). We each had to defend our case and take questions from the audience in doing so. It was great fun and I loved working with Piers and Jill in our characters as we bad-mouthed and defended each other along the way!
Lydia Bennett, of course, was voted out by the audience and I took it most personally! How utterly outrageous, the story is all about her and her success at finding a husband FIRST out of her 5 sisters!
Great fun was had by all and I was delighted to be involved with the festival, an iconic part of Bath's calendar. Thank you for having us, Jane Austen Festival.