AUSTEN FOUND The Lost Musicals of Jane Austen

BATS Theatre, The Random Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

18/05/2021 - 22/05/2021

BATS Theatre, The Random Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

26/10/2018 - 26/10/2018

NZ International Comedy Festival 2021

NZ Improv Festival 2018

Production Details

Directed by Penny Ashton


Addicted to Darcy? Lost all Sense and Sensibility? Bonkers for Big Balls? Well put down your cross-stitching and join one of NZ’s most experienced improv troupes, ConArtists, as they swoon, romp, and pianoforte their way through an entirely improvised Austenian Musical.

Charming suitors, meddlesome mothers, tight breeches and surprisingly well-educated girls will all paint a vivid picture in song, dance and passionate hand-holding. It’s been ten years since they first covered their ankles, and to celebrate they are reviving their show in the very festival that started the bonnet rolling.

“Jane Austen would turn in her grave with delight!” — Rip It Up, Adelaide

Originally performed at the very first NZIF in 2008, and starring Penny Ashton, Lori Dungey, Nigel Burrows, Peter Muller and with Ross Devereux tickling the pianoforte. It’s a jolly good show!

[See other reviews from 2009 & 2010]

“…an engaging entertainment full of fun and frivolity.” — NZ Herald

Director Penny Ashton is New Zealand’s own global comedienne who has been making a splash on the world stage since 2002. Penny has been a professional improviser for 17 years, winning the Improvaganza Masters of the Universe title in Edmonton, and was the director and creator of Austen Found: The Undiscovered Musicals of Jane Austen.

The Random Stage at BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace Wellington
Friday, October 26, 2018
Tis $14-20 – Book now!

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… stop watching Bridgerton & get ready to enjoy an entirely improvised musical in the style of Jane Austen. Penny Ashton (Promise & Promiscuity, Olive Copperbottom), world famous hobbit Lori Dungey (The Dinner, LOTR) & Emmy award-winning maestro Jason Smith, will spin your suggestions into instant literary magic.

“Jane Austen would be rolling in her grave.. with delight!” – Rip it Up

Improvaganza Masters of the Universe 2003
Winner – Best Theatre 2015, Adelaide Fringe
Emmy Award 2009
Winner – Best Indoor Show 2018, World Buskers Festival

BATS Theatre, The Random Stage
18 – 22 May 2021
The Difference $40
Full Price $25
Concession Price $24
Group 6+ $24
Cheap Wednesday $22.5

The Random Stage is fully wheelchair accessible; please contact the BATS Box Office by 4.30pm on the show day if you have accessibility requirements so that the appropriate arrangements can be made. Read more about accessibility at BATS.

Check out the full line up in the 2021 NZ International Comedy Festival with Best Foods Mayo from 4 – 23 May.

Theatre , Improv ,

1 hr

Seamless mastery of genre and skills

Review by Melissa Bee 19th May 2021

Austen Found: the Undiscovered Musicals of Jane Austen is a funny, bawdy romp through the meadows of the minds behind the comedy group the Conartists. Penny Ashton, Lori Dungey and Jason Smith bring the spirit of Jane Austen to Wellington through razor sharp quips, running gags and expert musical accompaniment. 

Each night’s show is unique but immersed in the world of Jane Austen’s characters and settings. Austen Found has something for everyone: Austen fans will be tickled by their references and comedy lovers will be entertained with fast-paced, witty performances. Improv games and audience participation are woven throughout the show, and the games serve both the narrative and the genre seamlessly.

Ashton and Dungey are character chameleons, morphing expertly between the archetypes familiar to Austen fans. They are in tune with each other and maestro Smith, and their strong rhymes and comedic timing show their mastery of both the genre and the skills of good improvisation.

At the time of writing, the show is nearly sold out. If you are lucky enough, you’ll get to be invited to the best ball of the season. 


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All very in-tune with one another

Review by Rebecca Stubbing 01st Nov 2018

The tenth anniversary of the New Zealand Improv Festival has brought several popular shows from previous years back to the Wellington area for special anniversary performances, and the magnificent Austen Found is one of them [see links to previous reviews].  

Auckland-based improvisers the ConArtists first staged their period masterpiece ten years ago at the very first New Zealand Improv Festival, and for this one show revival tour they have reassembled ¾ of the original cast, with Penny Ashton, Lori Dungey, and Nigel Burrows returning to the stage, and Peter Muller joining the cast (and Ross Devereux joining on the keyboard).

You can tell from the crammed full audience that Jane Austen is still a big-time crowd pleaser. It might be because this is a revival of a ten year old show or it might be because that’s just the way it is but the format of the show definitely does feel like more of a straightforward crowd-pleaser than some of the high-experimental fare they have going at the festival. If everything involved puppets made out of trash and devastating major character deaths, though, the festival would just be too stressful, so I’m glad things like Austen Found are still here to provide some Friday-evening comfort at the end of a busy week.

In a touch that impresses me with her knowledge of Jane Austen, and makes me worried that she is worried that the show will run under time, Penny Ashton opens the show by speaking to the audience about Jane Austen. (Spoiler alert but it turns out later that I don’t need to be worried about the timing because the show runs perfectly to time without any scene feeling too long or too short). Ashton and Dungey then determine from the audience, and “the very important military hat” full of sins, that the Jane Austen musical we are about to see is entitled Greed and Gullibility.  

Greed and gullibility both feature prominently along with perambulating in the woods, spitting at any mention of the French, and the constant need to practise the pianoforte. The musical runs so smoothly I forget at times that it isn’t scripted. It’s really pretty crazy.

The songs provide a lovely reminder that the improvisers are in fact improvising. Some are extremely excellent, such as Dungey and Ashton’s powerful duet about how much they’re looking forward to kissing when they finally get married, and some aren’t quite on that level, but they all showcase these delightful moments of figuring out what the song is going to be about and visible joy when the song finds its feet.

All the actors keep right on top of their multiple roles and costume changes (serviced by the very busy hat stand up stage centre), filling me and the audience members I can hear around me with joy when they’re clearly wearing the scarf for one character but their scene partner has another idea and they have to seamlessly adapt.

Little splashes of colour from an improvised hymn sung in one voice by all actors, and a pre-choreographed but still delightful ball dance are the sprinkles on top of this delicious Austenian cake.

My one complaint is about Burrows’ unfortunate character choice as the Vicar. He and his cast-mates work extremely hard to dig him out of the ditch he has been created in and mould a likeable character that the audience can get on board with, but the character has started off extremely icky which makes things very difficult for them. The Vicar’s first appearance involves making creepy advances on Ashton’s character which makes most of the audience very uncomfortable, so while some of the audience are won over by the end, others are never going to forgive him.

I very much appreciate Ashton’s fourth-wall-breaking check-ins with the audience whenever something particularly creepy happens, which lets us know that she knows what is going on and does a lot to restore a sense of safety in the audience. Luckily too, this is an improv show! So no-one ever has to see that particular character again! Hooray!

Not-a-good-idea character choices aside, the music is excellent, the performers are all very in-tune with one another, and it is a very enjoyable show which my friends keep raving about long after it has finished.  


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