Katherine MacAlister talks to comic actress Cariad Lloyd about the runaway hit – and award-winning – improvised show Austentatious

Cariad Lloyd is nursing a hangover when we speak, not surprising considering the night before she and the rest of the Austentatious stars were on stage to receive their first ever Chortle award, improv being a brand new category.

“We celebrated quite hard last night so this morning my head is a bit sore, but it was a great night and a real honour because the award was based on a public vote.

“It was also nice not to be wearing a regency dress for a change,” she laughs.

Rightful winners, the show has gone down a storm, selling out everywhere it goes, with reviews to make you blush. The good news is it’s en route to the North Wall and Chipping Norton Theatre where crowds will be equally as appreciative of their hilarious take on Jane Austen.

To set the scene, the hour-long comedy play is based entirely on audience suggestions. Previous show titles have included Pride and Predator, Strictly Come Darcy and Mansfield Shark. Performed in period costume with live cello accompaniment, Austentatious is utterly improvised so you’ll never see the same show twice. And that’s how the cast likes it. The ensemble of six were a break off cluster from the Oxford Imps who decided to specialise in Jane Austen improv (a niche market I think we’ll all agree) and got together for one rehearsal before they realised they really had something.

A gig in a small pub in Leicester Square garnered a crowd of 12, and word spread almost instantly, meaning that when Austentatious arrived at Edinburgh Fringe people were queueing for three hours to get tickets. So has it been hard to keep up with their own success then? “Well, we’ve been doing this for three years now, so it hasn’t exactly been overnight,” Cariad said.

Is it hard to come up with an original story night after night then?

“No because its all based around the title not the cast. It’s not about what you would like to do as an actor or comedian, its about the story and we all want to do something different everyday to keep it interesting for us as well, so we try to ensure we don’t repeat ourselves. It would be pointless doing the same thing when there are so many characters and plots for us to explore, so for example the last show’s title, picked out of the hat, was Five Go Camping in Pemberley.”

In their spare time the cast go off and do different things, all comedy based, and Cariad has just done a BBC3 pilot for her own show and got the green light from Radio 4.

“Its great but then we always come back together to do Austentatious because we have fun and like hanging out together. It wouldn’t work otherwise.”

As for Austentatious’ longevity, Cariad says there is still endless potential in the format and with things going so well they don’t have plans to change it any time soon. Besides, with the next Edinburgh Fringe to plan, the UK tour and their sights set on the West End and the As to whether the award will change things, Cariad says: ”I don’t it will make a difference to the audience but it might make a difference in the industry, and maybe improv will be taken a bit more seriously in this country and considered an art form, because in the US it’s massive and where lots of Saturday Night Live style comedians started out, like Will Ferrell,” she says.

Austentatious comes to North Wall Arts Centre tomorrow night (01865 319 450 thenorthwall.com) and The Theatre Chipping Norton on April 26 (01608 642 350 chippingnortontheatre.co.uk)