by Katie Antoniou
Readers of the synopsis for the new movie ‘Austenland’ may be forgiven for supposing that the ‘Jane Austen theme park’ the protagonist travels to in order to find love is merely a figment of Hollywood’s imagination, but actually, it’s not that far from the truth.
Wrapping up last weekend, was the annual Jane Austen Festival which took place in Bath, a city that features in many of the author’s novels. The festival customarily opens with the Grand Regency Costumed Promenade, where over 600 people don authentic regency costumes to ‘take a turn’ around Bath. Throughout the festival walking tours of Austen landmarks in Bath can be taken, as well as more specific lectures- this year ‘the etiquette of the duel’ was a must for young gentlemen. Actors read from favourites like Pride and Prejudice in the local library, whilst you can learn how to dance in the regency style (for as Jane writes ‘ to be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love’ ) or improve your general etiquette ‘for those who aspire to gentility’!
This year the festival closed with the wonderfully tongue-in-cheek ‘Austentatious‘, fresh from rave reviews at Edinburgh Festival. This enactment of an improvised Jane Austen novel relies on audience suggestions to fuel their hour long comedy- hilarity is guaranteed to ensue! If you can’t make it to Bath tonight, fear not- ‘Austentatious’ will be performing further dates in London and around the country.
And even after the festival is over, Bath continues to cater to Austen enthusiasts all year round. Celebrating 200 years of Pride and Prejudice, the Jane Austen Centre has designed a Jane Austen Spa experience which promises tea with Mr Darcy and bathing in Bath’s natural thermal waters. For anyone imagining a wet-shirted Firth however, I’m pretty sure that’s not part of the package.
And back in London, wannabe ‘Austenland’ imitators can do dating the Darcy way with the help of another immersive theatre production being staged by OneOhOne theatre. Under the guidance of Austen’s plucky heroine Emma, audience members will be led through games and riddles designed - in Emma’s opinion - to find them their perfect match. She takes no prisoners in her attempted matchmaking but other characters have turned up to play…and the path to true love never did run smooth!
And of course if you prefer to remain out of the spotlight yourself, then you can safely visit your local cinema to see ‘Austenland‘ from 27th September.
It seems that Jane Austen still has as firm a place in our hearts as she does on our bookshelves, in our cinemas and soon on our ten pound notes.
Cover photo via Sony Classics