Time-Travel, Murder, and Muslin in JANE AUSTEN: PRIVATE EYE

4 stars

Would Jane Austen make a great literary detective? It’s not a question many have asked, but it’s a premise that draws the audience through the amusing one-woman whodunnit created by Jessica Messenger.

Sparked by her obvious love of Austen, Messenger has crafted a time-travelling murder-mystery in which Jane Austen finds herself inadvertently embroiled. The story is narrated by Austen in the style of an epistolary novel in which Jane is writing to her sister to tell her of the gruesome and unusual events occurring around her.

Image courtesy of fringeworld.com.au

Image courtesy of fringeworld.com.au

These narrative interludes are skilfully toggled by Messenger with the direct action of the play through her quick shifts from actor to narrator, and are signalled by the surprisingly delightful use of a ukulele.

The scenes themselves are segregated into titled chapters, acted entirely by Messenger who slips easily between multiple characters.

Her uncanny ability to convince the audience that the demure lady in an empire-line dress is indeed a Scottish police sergeant, a twittering nurse, or the grim and dead-pan serial killer is impressive and entertaining. The audience is drawn into the drama and suspense of the story without questioning the presence of multiple characters all depicted by the same person.

Messenger keeps the tone and language of Austen’s narration consistent and fitting with the real Jane Austen’s style, while at the same time weaving in time-travel, murder, and the odd nod to literary detectives across the ages.

Along with this, there are enough tidbits from Austen’s work peppered throughout the performance to keep true fans amused and connected. But non-Austen aficionados need not fear. This is a story in its own right that borrows from, but does not rely upon, the Austen catalogue.

Reimagining Jane Austen is an ambitious undertaking. Her work, style, and particularly her quick quips are beloved to generations. Fans tend to know her work inside out. Messenger’s story doesn’t flounder, however. It is funny, loving and intelligent and works with the real Austen’s biography to give her life beyond death.

Tickets available from the FRINGE WORLD website.