FAST-PACED ROMP WITH SONG AND DANCE EARNS UNIVERSAL APPRECIATION
Auckland Fringe 2013|
PROMISE AND PROMISCUITY: A NEW MUSICAL BY JANE AUSTEN
Written by Penny Ashton and Jane Austen
Workshops directed by Ben Crowder
Music Written and Arranged by Robbie Ellis
presented by Penny Ashton
at TAPAC Theatre, Western Springs, Auckland
From 27 Feb 2013 to 3 Mar 2013
Reviewed by Bronwyn Elsmore, 28 Feb 2013
On the way to the theatre I ask myself why on earth I am going to a play that threatens to ruin the reputation of Jane Austen, and I wait with breathless anticipation for my answer. The truth, I am forced to confess, is that the most accomplished and highly esteemed Author's name has, for me, already been reduced in my estimation since reading a novel called Jane Bites Back, in which Jane reappears in present time as a vampire. Dear Reader, I further confess, I found it very funny.
Apparently, in these times and climes, Miss Austen is regarded as fair game – or perhaps it is the Regency values and vanities her novels address that cannot resist revision.
So it is with a mixture of prejudice, sensibility and anticipation that I, accompanied by a most accomplished friend, find myself in attendance at Promise and Promiscuity, billed as a new musical by Jane Austen and Penny Ashton.
From the beginning and throughout the 70 minute show, comedienne Penny Ashton, the “Writer /Performer /Publicist /Producer /Production Designer /Conceptualiser /Bonnetter” of the production proves to be well up to all the roles – not only those to do with the production, but onstage where she plays two handfuls of characters.
Central is Miss Elspeth Slowtree (aka writer Wilbur Smythe, author of Fifty Shades of Arrgh), surrounded by her marriage-obsessed mother and simpering sister as they interact with the class-conscious Lady Wrexham and her son Reginald, the supercilious Digby Dalton, desperate cousin Thomasina, the repulsive cousin Horatio, and even the servant Brownlie. After their first introductions, Penny Ashton's portrayal of each doesn't falter, and in every conversation there's no doubt which one is speaking.
And what conversations there are, full of double-entendres that give full and hilarious consideration of spinsterhood, tight breeches and balls – the dancing sort, you will be reminded and reassured. In fact, despite the fun poked at the foibles of middle-class English Regency values, this is a show you can take your daughter or grandmother to; the only F word uttered at Little Cocks Cottage is Fiddlesticks.
The gowned and bonnetted Miss Ashton reveals herself as not only a most accomplished actor, but a singer and dancer of some talent also. The songs need to be listened to with care. for the lyrics – as with the dialogue throughout – are replete with inventive use of purloined lines from a variety of contemporary sources, and comments on present-day situations.
If Penny Ashton is the undoubted star of the show, her indebtedness to several others is clear, particularly Ben Crowder for direction and Robbie Ellis for music arrangements.
Promise and Promiscuity is a fast-paced romp that entertains from the opening scene to the hilarious final bow from each of the characters in turn.
There's universal appreciation from the full audience on opening night, and deservedly so – the show rates a full house for the rest of its run.
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