ConArtists: Austen Found - The Undiscovered Musicals of Jane Austen

The Drake, Freeman's Bay, Auckland

07/05/2009 - 16/05/2009

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, The Edge, Auckland

21/10/2010 - 31/10/2010

NZ International Comedy Festival 2007-09, 2013

Production Details


Addicted to Darcy?  Lost all Sense and Sensibility?  Bonkers for Big Balls?  Well put down your cross-stitching and join with Auckland’s Leading Improv Troupe, 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.  

Bringing the Bennetts to life will be veteran performer Lori Dungey, world famous Hobbit and one of the founding players of Theatresports in New Zealand.  Lori performs all over the World and has represented both New Zealand and Canada in international tournaments including the World Cup of Theatresports in Germany in 2006 and was victorious in the Improvaganza Masters of the Universe Tournament in Edmonton in 2003. 

Greg Cooper has been improvising from the tender age of 13 and is a veteran of hundreds of improv and dramatic performances and has also represented New Zealand overseas most memorably as a member of the World Cup winning team in Los Angeles in 1994. 

Penny Ashton is a comedienne and actor and has performed both Improv and her solo comedy shows from Adelaide to Edinburgh to Gore.  She too represented NZ at the World Cup in 2006 and at the Improvaganza in 2003 and enjoyed her 2000 stint on Shortland St as a gynaecologist.

Stayci Taylor is a graduate of the John Bolton Theatre School in Melbourne and has trained with Phillipe Gaulier in London and Paris. She has travelled extensively throughout NZ and the world with improv and is a senior writer for Mâori Programming in NZ, recently receiving a complaint that her writing is too saucy, of which she is proud.

Original ConArtists actor Nigel Burrows rounds out our Regency Romp with muso Ross Devereux providing the plinking on the pianoforte.

"Now why didn’t I think of that!"  Jane Austen

Dates:  May 7th, 8th and 9th and 14th, 15th and 16th. 7pm
Venue:  The Drake, 2 Drake St, Freeman’s Bay
Tickets:  $20/$16 Groups 6+ $16 and COMBO deal with Sex Lies and Improvise $30
Bookings:  0800 TICKETEK, or at the Door. 

Presented by ConArtists in association with STAMP at THE EDGE 
Thursday 21 – Sunday 31 October 
Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre
Ticketing information
Concession: applies to Students, Actors Equity Card Holders, Seniors and Beneficiaries
(Valid ID required)

Group bookings (6+) call 09 357 3354

Duration: 1 hour, 30 minutes, no interval
(Running time is approximate and is subject to change

Concept by Penny Ashton
Musical Improvisation by Robbie Ellis
Performed by Lori Dungey, Penny Ashton, Nigel Burrows, Chris Neels and Kathleen Burns

1hr, no interval

Improv treatment real Austentatious delicacy

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 26th Oct 2010

There’s fun and frivolity aplenty in theatre-sport version of Jane Austen’s enduring period stories

Although Jane Austen’s stories are deeply embedded in a particular time and place they have an elastic quality that lets them be all things to all people.

Along with the endless remakes of film and television adaptations, there have been recent attempts to add zombies and sea monsters to the storylines and fierce academic debates as to whether her work is realistic or satirical, conservative or revolutionary. [More]
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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A veritable abundance of austentatious authenticity

Review by Nik Smythe 23rd Oct 2010

As I seat myself amongst a sizeable second-night crowd, which it is revealed comprises a large proportion of devoted Jane Austen lovers (determined by a show of hands as to whom has actually read her latter work Northanger Abbey), it occurs to me I have actually not only never read a novel by Jane Austen, I haven’t even seen any of the numerous film adaptations. Oddly however, I kind of feel as though I have and if nothing else I’ve seen A Room With A View a bunch of times.

Indeed, the ensuing on-the-spot manufacture and performance of a suddenly invented long lost manuscript of Jane Austen spontaneously named Greed and Generosity by means of lottery and audience nomination seems as familiar as Dickens and Twain. I won’t reveal the ingenious device for obtaining your Jane Austen name, but I can tell you that mine is Harry Cecilbottom.

Mistress of ceremonies Penelope Ashton enters first to provide a brief overview of Jane Austen’s background before introducing the rest of the cast. Kathleen Burns takes the feminine lead of Samantha Hammybottom, prudish yet insightful, the image of pure generosity. The remaining four players launch resolutely into a range of characters that manage somehow through all the absurdity and comedic leg-pulling to elicit enough sympathy to keep us involved and caring about what happens next. 

It all goes to clearly illustrate the insidious effect of the classic romance formula, which Austen is considered by many to have pioneered despite being luke-warmly received in her lifetime (it seems I know more about the woman herself than the details of her stories). The story is inevitably entirely different each night, and much of the appeal is in witnessing the players setting each other up and taking each other’s offers with seasoned skill. 

The musical numbers are an ideal and tremendously amusing means for consolidating the character’s relationships and backstories, enabled not inconsiderably by pianist Robbie Ellis, whose superlative command of eighteenth century style chamber music has the proceedings proceeding with a veritable abundance of austentatious authenticity.

So clearly, whether you’re a mere Austen-curious novice like myself or a fully confirmed Austenophile you are sure to be entertained by the precocious antics of the commendable troupe known as ConArtists, and indubitably learn a bushel of new words in the process. Like ‘necrosis’ and ‘barouche’. 

And if you really like the show you can buy the fridge magnets. Superlative! 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


Robbie Ellis October 25th, 2010

Thanks for coming along and writing about the performance. Here are a couple more reviews from this season:

John Daly-Peoples in the NBR
Paul Simei-Barton in the NZ Herald

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Consummate performers dish up a treat

Review by Joanna Davies 08th May 2009

It really is very exciting. 

Let me say from the outset, I’m not an Austen fan. Much to my librarian Mother’s horror I have never read her work and I’ve managed to steer clear of the film adaptations (with the exception of the dripping-wet Colin Firth scene). So ambling up the stairs to The Drake’s function room, I was sceptical.

Not for long. We were warmly welcomed by the rosy-cheeked and very-excited-for-a prim-young-lady Penny Ashton, who introduced her fellow players (Lori Dungey, Stayci Taylor, Nigel Burrows and Greg Cooper). Our Austen knowledge was tested, reluctant male audience members were charmingly reassured and we were taught how to determine our Austen names (take the first name of your favourite royal and first pet’s name with "ybottom" added to the end, e.g. Beatrice Pandybottom).

The audience choose the name and theme of the musical, Greed and Generosity, and then sat back, relaxed and laughed their way through the following hour without fear of being picked on.

There was swooning, romping, choreographed dancing, an enormous ball, garden strolls, passion (of the reserved English variety), scheming, meddling, innuendo, a tune or two on the pianoforte, and more laughter than I expected for my money (not being an Austen girl at all).

The entire cast did a magnificent job of capturing the essence of Jane Austen’s style in their parody without offending ardent fans or losing the enthusiasm of strangers to the genre. I’m fairly certain "okay" wasn’t a commonly bandied about term in the Regency Period but the troupe has certainly done their research.

Penny Ashton and Greg Cooper were stand-outs due to their command of the vernacular, their ability to take charge of a scene and think on their feet (proving Ashton is "quite bright for a girl"). Cooper in particular seemed targeted by the pianoforte player and his fitting rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s "Cecilia" was timely and priceless.

ConArtists are consummate performers. They make improv look so easy you’ll think you could get up and give it a go. Please don’t. Leave it to the professionals – but go and check them out at The Drake. Whatever they dish up, you’re in for a treat.

Austen Found runs for two more nights – Friday 8th and Saturday 9th. They’re back next Thursday with a brand-new show. See you there! 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


Jo Davies May 8th, 2009

Eek! Apologies Penny, I stand corrected. You are indeed on for three nights next week with merely half an hour to change costumes for Sex, Lies & Improvise (I trust there will be a costume change although the breeches could work!).
I shall see you at the 8:30 show!

Penny Ashton May 8th, 2009

 I blush.... Thanks ever so for the glowing report but I would be remiss if I did not point out that in fact, we are on for FIVE more nights.  Indeed two this week plus an additional three next week with our new show playing immediately after.  Yours etc...

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