AUSTEN FOUND The Undiscovered Musicals of Jane Austen

Regent Theatre Clarkson Studio, Dunedin

12/09/2023 - 12/09/2023

Ashburton Trust Events Centre, Christchurch

08/09/2023 - 08/09/2023

Various venues - on tour, New Zealand wide

26/08/2023 - 14/10/2023

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 2021.


For her fifth Arts on Tour NZ Penny Ashton (Olive Copperbottom, Promise and Promiscuity, Sense and Sensibility – The Court Theatre, Hot Pink Bits) is bringing along her most accomplished improvising friend; Lori Dungey (M3GAN, Lord of the Rings, Xena) and her most melodical musical maestro; Jamie Burgess (Canterbury Opera, K Rd Strip, Basil Fawlty) to perambulate the NZ countryside spreading laughter and delightful bonnets as they go. An entirely improvised Austenian Musical.

Complete Sell-out Comedy Festival (2007 and 2021) and Adelaide Fringe (2010)

“Penny Ashton and Lory Dungey – two excellent improvisers who know what they’re doing.” – Dominion Post

2023 Itinerary

Saturday, 26 August 7.00pm Kaeo
Whangaroa Memorial (Kaeo) Town Hall
$25, Tickets: Eventfinda

Sunday, 27 August 7.00pm Whangarei
Forum North
Adult $25; Senior/Student $20

Tuesday, 29 August 7.30pm Paeroa
Paeroa Little Theatre, Francis Street
$28 per ticket or $30 at the door
Tickets: Arkwrights Antiques

Wednesday, 30 August 7.00pm Waihi
The Theatre, Boyd Road
$28, Tickets:

Thursday, 31 August 7.30pm Tauranga
16th Avenue Theatre, 164 16th Avenue
$35, Tickets: iTicket

Saturday, 2 September 7.00pm Waipawa
Central Hawke’s Bay Municipal Theatre
$25, Tickets:

Sunday, 3 September 2.00pm Rangiwahia
Rangiwahia Hall, 2527 Rangiwahia Road
$20, Tickets: Text: Shelley Dew-Hopkins 027 2286239, Rose Brodie 027 4777691, Natalie Masters 027 257 4219,

Monday, 4 September 8.00pm Upper Hutt
Whirinaki Whare Taonga, 836 Fergusson Drive
$20, Tickets:

Tuesday, 5 September 7.30pm Picton
Picton Little Theatre
Tickets: Eventfinda or Summit Real Estate

Wednesday, 6 September 7.30pm Kaikoura
The Mayfair Arts and Culture Centre, Kaikoura OpShop Auditorium
Adults $30, Students $20, Tickets:

Thursday, 7 September 7.00pm Darfield
Darfield Recreation Centre, 92 North Terrace
Adults $25 Children $10 (Rec suitable for children over 14)
Tickets: Te Huanui Art Gallery in Darfield, 17 South Terrace Darfield and at door of venue

Friday, 8 September 7.30pm Ashburton
Ashburton Event Centre
$25 (fees apply), Tickets: or venue box office

Saturday, 9 September 7.30pm Geraldine
The Lodge Theatre, Talbot St
$25, Tickets: Louk Clothing, Talbot Street (cash only)

Monday, 11 September 7.00pm Lincoln
The Laboratory
$20, Tickets: or phone 03 325 3006

Tuesday, 12 September 7.03pm Dunedin

Regent Theatre Clarkson Studio
ADULT: $30 + booking fees CONCESSION: $25 + booking fees CHILD: $15 + booking fees

Wednesday, 13 September 7.30pm Invercargill
Scottish Hall
$35, Tickets:

Thursday, 14 September 7.30pm Waikaia
The Lodge223
$25, Tickets:

Friday, 15 September 7.00pm Roxburgh
Roxburgh Town Hall
$25, Tickets: iSite

Saturday, 16 September 7.00pm Alexandra
Central Stories
$30, Tickets: Central Stories

Sunday, 17 September 7.30pm Cromwell
Coronation Hall, Bannockburn

Tuesday, 19 September 7.00pm Reefton
Reefton Club
$25, Tickets: DOOR SALES or Ph (03)7328542

Wednesday, 20 September 8.00pm Mussel Inn, Onekaka
The Mussel Inn
Tickets: Austen Found tix

Thursday, 21 September 7.30pm Motueka
Chanel Arts Centre
Adults $25, Schoolchildren $5, Tickets: Floral Affaire (cash only) and at the door on the night of the concert (EFTPOS available)

Friday, 22 September 8.00pm Nelson
The Boathouse Society
$25, Tickets:

Sunday, 24 September 6.00pm Palmerston North
The Globe, Palmerston North
Adults: $32, Children $27, Tickets:

Saturday, 7 October 8.00pm Onewhero
OSPA Theatre
$30, Tickets:

Sunday, 8 October 7.30pm Coromandel
Hauraki House Theatre
$25, Tickets: Coromandel Town Information Centre 07 8668598

Wednesday, 11 October 7.30pm Rotorua
Shambles Theatre, beside Pak n Save, Rotorua
$30, Tickets: cash at the door or Ph: Jenny 07 357 6275

Thursday, 12 October Matamata (own arrangements)

Friday, 13 October 7.00pm Whangamata
The Whangamata Memorial Hall, 328 Port Road
$30, Tickets: Pumice Patch, Info Centre or online info

Saturday, 14 October 7.00pm Putaruru
The Plaza Theatre Putaruru
$15, Tickets: The Plaza 07 8838596 or

ARTS ON TOUR NZ (AOTNZ) organises tours of outstanding New Zealand performers to rural and smaller centres in New Zealand. The trust receives funding from Creative New Zealand as well as support from Central Lakes Trust, Community Trust South, Interislander, Otago Community Trust, Aotearoa Gaming Trust, West Coast Community Trust, Pub Charity and Community Trust Mid and South Canterbury.  AOTNZ liaises with local arts councils, repertory theatres and community groups to bring the best of musical and theatrical talent to country districts. The AOTNZ programme is environmentally sustainable – artists travel to their audiences rather than the reverse.

Penny Ashton
Lory Dungey
Jamie Burgess (musician)

Theatre , Improv ,

1 hr

Rises to the challenge with supreme confidence and skill

Review by Terry MacTavish 14th Sep 2023

Bouncy bosom-bumps all round – Austen Found is a superbly well-developed, outstanding triumph! 

Acclaimed improvisors Penny Ashton and Lori Dungey have been playfully exploiting Jane Austen (and delighting her fans) for so many years that the period is second nature to them now, so their spontaneous creation of a musical parody of her typical plots, characters, and manners works a treat. Certainly, this audience in the Regent’s intimate Clarkson Studio rates Dance and Destruction, invented just for us, a howling success.

Under the auspices of Arts on Tour, the company is heroically touring the whole of Aotearoa, hence the travelling set beneath the chandeliers could not be simpler – screen, rug, blackboard for the audience’s contributions, and a hatstand for the spare costumes, plus Empire gowns on the ladies, demure pink and blue with absurd coal-scuttle bonnets over two insanely expressive faces.

Jamie Burgess, the marvellously adept accompanist, swans in demanding our willing applause and commandeers the keyboard, while “authentically” red-haired Ashton takes charge of the audience in brisk schoolmarm fashion. “What’s going on at the back? Shush!” – later threatening a thrashing for a wretch who has forgotten to turn off their device. We are invited to discover our own Austen names (royalty plus pet plus of course, bottom) and “Elizabeth Thumper-Bottom” is chosen for the heroine. 

The alliterative title is plucked at random from Austen’s Collected Works, and local interest is secured by asking for “Dunedinshire” place names, of which the most intriguing is our very own Harbour Molars, puzzling to the out-of-towners. These, with a few other suggestions including an animal (we pick a penguin) are written on the blackboard, so we will have the cruel amusement of watching the actors struggle to incorporate all.

Sensibly, there is a basic structure to the improvised show, just as the old Commedia Dell Arte troupes would establish, with certain stock characters and possibly a few set speeches, but all these Austen Found cunningly concocted stories are dictated by Austen’s own plots – heroine is being pushed to marry, meets hero and dislikes him, but after further encounters, including at least one ball, an understanding is reached and a romantic proposal at last accepted. Simple.

Not so simple to decide on the scenes and write an entertaining script on the spot, let alone include songs that advance the action and actually rhyme, but Ashton and Dungey rise to the challenge with supreme confidence and skill. Flipping a coin, they settle on Ashton as perky heroine Elizabeth Thumper-Bottom, meaning versatile Dungey will valiantly take on Mama, like Mrs Bennet anxious to marry off her daughter, little sister Gardenia with butterfly net and lisp, rich best friend Cecily by Chalmers Lake, Vicar McShortbread of St Paul’s Cathedral, and inevitably, Edward Octagon, the yet-to-be-recognised hero, who has taken up residence in Molar Manor.

Burgess is kept in the picture, generously included in the saucy puns and double entendres, from turning on microphones to preparing fingering, but he really comes into his own when the actors burst into song. There are six hilarious musical numbers in our Dance and Destruction, including a duet battle between mother and daughter on the virtues and vices of Dance, a rousing Agent of Destruction number with a Bang Bang Pop chorus when Octagon’s flaw is revealed to be a tendency to blow things up, an ingeniously executed hymn in which Ashton and Dungey try frantically to guess what invented line the other is about to sing, and a sweetly wistful torch-song, Elizabeth’s solo when she falls in love.

There are many delightful serendipitous moments as these clever actors interpret the narrative, seizing on every opportunity for irony and naughty innuendo (though a favourite of mine is Ashton’s surprisingly lyrical description of Molar Manor, slightly decayed and with floss hanging from the windows), but of course in improv it will not work every time, and much of the fun comes from watching the actors’ frenetic attempts to rescue a scene. 

Luckily there is really no such thing as a spoiler when reviewing improvised performance, because any scene less than successful – tonight, for instance, the domestic servants seemed to function merely for the sake of the spotted dick – will no doubt work beautifully at the next show. For Dungey and Ashton are separately skilled practitioners who together make the perfect team, pouncing gleefully on each other’s offers, the more tricksy and mischievous the better.

The deft dialogue is enhanced by courageous physicality (ah, the demented penguin!) with neither energy nor imagination flagging, despite the earlier extra show (public demand!) Both actors are so well versed in the beloved writer’s language and etiquette that even Austen’s most literary admirers seem more than satisfied. And if a line should be a trifle infelicitous, Ashton merely shoots a rueful glance at us over her shoulder, straight through the 4thwall, and the audience rocks with laughter.

But the truly rollicking highlight of the show is the grand ball, depending as it does on dragging sheepish blokes from the audience onstage, as tall and desirable partners. Dungey and Ashton are naturally astute in their choices, and the local chaps learn an elegant Regency country dance with astonishing speed. One in particular is gold for an improvisor, and doubtless by now ruling the internet – tall as a tree, with a great Austen name, and actually a job in Dunedin Parks and Recreation. By the time Elizabeth has told us how much she wants to climb him, he has clicked that he is Octagon’s rival and needs to go down on one knee and propose. What a sport. 

The audience has barely finished roaring its approval before Ashton is giving a much-needed plug for the magnificent but endangered Arts on Tour, and setting up a stall to sell her cute fridge magnets and tea towels – a cheerfully shameless marketing ploy that might startle some patrons. But Penny Ashton, like Austen’s original Elizabeth, is possessed of “a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody” and like Darcy, her enthusiastic audience is clearly bewitched. Personally, I rejoice that Arts on Tour exists, to ensure these brilliant artists can enchant even our smallest country towns with their inimitable brand of charming witchery.


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Whirlwind pace and bawdy comedy to delight Janeites and novices alike

Review by Fiona S Giles 09th Sep 2023

Jane Austen is known for her sly wit and social commentary. Not for her lewd humour or improvised songs. Yet fear not. Austen Found, a modern foray into the Regency world of anxious Mamas, dastardly suitors and the ghastly prospect of being left on the shelf at 21, is a loving burlesque that has tonight’s audience in fits of laughter. It is currently touring New Zealand thanks to Arts on Tour NZ, which brings top New Zealand performances to rural areas.

Award-winning creator Penny Ashton is responsible for two other Austen shows, the solo musical Promise & Promiscuity, and a stage adaption of Sense & Sensibility. She clearly knows her source material and her love of Austen shines through tonight’s improvised musical.

As befits an improvised show, the stage is relatively bare. A carpet, two chairs and two coat stands are about the only things on stage. Indeed, nothing else is needed; imagination supplies the rest. And luckily the imaginations of both the performers and tonight’s audience are overflowing.

That’s because the audience is an integral part of the performance. Each performance is never-before seen, never to be seen again. With a few shouts from the audience we have our heroine, Miss Katherine Coffee-Bottom, several locations (ballroom and stables) and our setting, Clock Tower Manor. A random page number from the Complete Works of Jane Austen provides the jumping off point. Ashton and costar Lori Dungey provide the rest, including the boorish Mr Edward Ashvegas, the revolting Vicar Dandruff, and the ubiquitous Mama desperate to see her daughter safely married.

The storyline may be lifted right out of Austen but the songs… less so. Tonight’s efforts treat us to some truly hilarious songs improvised on the spot. Subject matter ranges from taking to one’s bed, spotted dick, and the devil. Due to illness, there is no live accompaniment tonight and we are forced to make do with backing tracks, yet the show does not feel unduly affected.

The coat stands, bedecked as they are with bonnets, scarfs, parasols and jackets, are the wellspring from which characters flow. Ashton and Dungey both effortlessly personify the multiple Austen-esque characters. Their wonderfully expressive faces and comical physicality are a delight to watch. The character mutterings to oneself are gold and the two gossiping grandmamas deserve a special mention.

Dungey is a marvel. Her transformation from enchanted young naïf to grizzled grandmother is a hoot. An accomplished stage and screen actor, Dungey is clearly comfortable with the discomfort improvisation brings. Ashton is plainly equally as comfortable, though her efforts at a Yorkshire accent need work.

Going on stage not knowing what will happen is a prospect too terrifying for many and I tip my hat to the pair. Their comic timing is impeccable and breathless madcap pace a delight. It’s clear Ashton and Dungey love riffing on what comes up on any given night. Even the mishaps that are an inevitable element of improvisation are a source of humour.

The show starts with a potted history of Austen which, while not strictly necessary, adds a little context for any Austen novices in the house. As Ashton herself pointed out, she has now been performing her Austen-inspired shows for longer than Jane Austen enjoyed her own fame before sadly passing aged only 41. Austen’s short mortal life has been unquestionably outstripped by her long legacy: 200 years and counting. The eternal relevance of Austen means it has something for everyone. And, as proven tonight by Ashton and Dungey, it transposes just as well to an improvised musical as it has to its many other reimaginings.

Austen Found is a remarkably funny romp in which the mores and morals of Jane Austen’s Regency world are lovingly lampooned with 21st century humour thrown in. It simultaneously manages to appeal to both the life-long Austen fan and those who wouldn’t know Austen from their elbow – no mean feat. Even the music-phobic will be charmed by this laugh-a-minute romp. (Though it’s not one to bring the children to, being liberally sprinkled with phallus jokes.)

Janeites and novices alike will enjoy the whirlwind pace and bawdy comedy. If you too love big balls, you will be right at home. 


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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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