PROMISE AND PROMISCUITY: A New Musical by Jane Austen & Penny Ashton

The Riverbank Centre, 71 Reyburn House Lane, Whangarei

06/06/2014 - 06/06/2014

Port Chalmers Town Hall, Dunedin

17/10/2014 - 18/10/2014

TAPAC Theatre, Western Springs, Auckland

27/02/2013 - 03/03/2013

Assemby, George Square, Edinburgh, Scotland

06/08/2016 - 29/08/2016

BUSKERS BOUTIQUE, Old Boy’s Theatre, Christ’s College, Christchurch

15/01/2015 - 24/01/2015

The Mussel Inn, Onekaka (near Takaka), Nelson

12/06/2014 - 12/06/2014

Playhouse Theatre, Dunedin

15/10/2014 - 16/10/2014

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

03/05/2016 - 21/05/2016

Kuranui College, Greytown, Greytown

22/10/2015 - 22/10/2015

Nelson Musical Theatre, 95 Atawhai Dr, The Wood, Nelson

24/10/2015 - 25/10/2015

Hamilton gardens, Victorian Garden Conservatory, Hamilton

24/02/2016 - 25/02/2016

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

12/11/2020 - 29/11/2020

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, The Edge, Auckland

06/05/2014 - 10/05/2014

Rangi Ruru Girls School, Merivale Lane, Christchurch

11/04/2014 - 12/04/2014

Arts On Tour NZ 2014

Dunedin Arts Festival 2014

Auckland Fringe 2013

Edinburgh Fringe 2016

World Buskers Festival 2015 | SCIRT

NZ International Comedy Festival 2014

NZ International Comedy Festival 2016

Kokomai Creative Festival

Nelson Arts Festival 2015

Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2016

Production Details

Written by Penny Ashton and Jane Austen
Workshops directed by Ben Crowder
Music Written and Arranged by Robbie Ellis


It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a theatre script… must be in want of an audience. Charmingly accomplished Penny Ashton (Austen Found, Hot Pink Bits, Good Morning, Poetry Idol) mashes up the Regency, bonnets and big balls from February 27th… with alacrity!

Fresh from the sell-out success of Austen Found: The Undiscovered Musicals of Jane Austen, Ashton has decided to do what no Regency woman should… go out alone AND completely unchaperoned, quite frankly it’s scandalous.

Follow the fortunes of Miss Elspeth Slowtree as she battles literary snobbery, her mother’s nerves and consumption, all armed with a superior wit, blushing countenance and generally being quite bright… you know… for a girl. Balls will be attended, crosses will be stitched and manners will be minded, all with not one ankle in sight. As Elizabeth Bennett herself says “Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can.” And so should you.

“Jane Austen would turn in her grave… with delight.” – Rip it Up Adelaide, (Austen Found)

“…an engaging entertainment full of fun and frivolity.” – NZ Herald, (Austen Found)

“…a rollercoaster barrage of thrilling words which ooze brilliant talent and creativity.” – Taranaki Daily News (Hot Pink with Penny Ashton)

Penny Ashton is New Zealand’s own global comedienne who has been making a splash on the world stage since 2002 and she has sold out shows from Edinburgh to Adelaide to Tokoroa. She has four Best NZ Female Comedienne nominations, three Adelaide Fringe People’s Choice nominations and won best performance by an International Poet at the London Farrago Awards. Penny has represented New Zealand in The World Cup of Theatresports in Germany and Australasia in a Performance Poetry Slam Tournament Tour of the UK. In 2010 she performed by invitation at The Glastonbury Festival and reported from the Miss Universe Pageant in Las Vegas.

Auckland Fringe runs from 15 February to 10 March 2013. For more Auckland Fringe information go to

Promise and Promiscuity: A New Musical by Jane Austen plays:
Feb 27th – March 3rd, 7pm and 6pm on Sunday 3rd.
Duration: 60 Minutes
Venue: TAPAC, Motions Rd, Western Springs
Tickets: Bookings: 09 845 0295, Prices: $25/$20 


Rangi Ruru Girls’ School Theatre, Merivale Lane, Christchurch 
11 & 12 April 2014

As part of the 2014 NZ International Comedy Festival in cahoots with Old Mout Cider, grab some mates and join us for a great night of laughs from 24 April – 18 May.

For the full Comedy Fest show line-up head to

Dates: 6 May – 10 May, 7pm
Venue: Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, 50 Mayoral Drive
Tickets: $20 – $25
Bookings: 09 970 9700 //
Website: – see here for all 30 dates on Penny’s Arts on Tour Tour.  

ARTS ON TOUR NZ – June-July 2014

Featuring classical music reworked by Robbie Ellis and lyrics by Ashton, Promise and Promiscuity delivers Penny Ashton unchaperoned to the provinces……quite frankly, it’s promiscuous.  

“…in the hands of Misses Ashton and Austen, this is an ‘attractive ball’ of a show.” – NZ Herald

Promise and Promiscuity, as a self-penned poke at Pride and Prejudice, is the perfect vehicle for an actress at the height of her power, for Penny Ashton is a virtuosa of rare skill….. a treat not to be missed.” – Robert Gilbert, Theatreview

“…a textbook example of how to do a great one woman show.” ««««« CBC

“… will please both Janeites and Jane-whos?” «««« Winnipeg Free Press


Tuesday 3 June 7.30pm Otamatea
Repertory Theatre
$30 Adult, Student/Gold card $15
Book: and door sales

Wednesday 4 June 7pm Kaikohe
$20 pre-paid, $25 door sales
Book: Passion8 or Hidden Treasures

Thursday 5 June 7.30pm Kerikeri
The Turner Centre
$30 adults; $20 Senior citizens/students (18 and under) Groups 6+
Book: or 09 407 0260

Friday 6 June 7.30pm Whangarei
The Riverbank Centre, Reyburn House Lane
$25 Adult
Book: and Whangarei Suit Hire

Saturday 7 June 8pm Onewhero
OSPA Theatre
Hall Rd
$20 Book: River Traders Tuakau

Tuesday 10 June 8pm Karamea
Last Resort
Pre-sales $17 Door sales $20
Book: Karamea Information Resource Centre

Wednesday 11 June 7pm Reefton
Community Theatre
$20 Book: 03 732 8542 

Thursday 12 June 8pm Takaka
The Mussel Inn, Onekaka 
$15 Book:  The Mussel Inn

Friday 13 June 8pm Mapua
The Playhouse Café
Book: Playhouse Café and Everyman records 

Saturday 14 June 7.30pm Hokitika 
Old Lodge Theatre, Revell St
$20 Book: Hokitika Regent Theatre 

Tuesday 17 June 7.30pm Alexandra
The Cellar Door 
Book: The Alexandra Information Centre 

Wednesday 18 June 7.30pm Ranfurly 
Arts Centre, Reade St
$25 Book: Ranfurly Information Centre 

Thursday 19 June 7pm Arrowtown 
Athenaeum Hall 
$20 Book: Lakes District Museum 

Friday 20 June 7.30pm Gore 
The Little Theatre
$25/$20 (Snr/student) plus Booking fee

Saturday 21 June7.30pm Invercargill
SIT Centrestage Theatre, Don St
Book: Ticketdirect or Cue TV

Monday 23 June 7.30pm Stewart Island
Community Centre
$20 Tickets at door

Tuesday 24 June Mosgiel 
Firestation Theatre
$25 book:
Dunedin Goldsmith and Paper Plus Mosgiel 

Wednesday 25 June 7.30pm Geraldine 
The Lodge Theatre, Talbot St
Book: Tresjoli Giftware

Thursday 26 June 8pm Akaroa 
Book: Akaroa Museum or Stacey Naish 03 304 7071 

Saturday 28 June 8pm Upper Hutt 
Expressions Arts and Entertainment Centre 
Adult $20; Friends $18
Book: 04 527 2168

Sunday 29 June 7.30pm Hastings 
Central Hawke’s Bay Municipal Theatre
$25 Adults; $20 concessions and groups 8+ (Booking fees apply)

Tuesday 1 July 7.30pm Gisborne 
Dome Room
Book:  The Aviary at Poverty Bay Club

Wednesday 2 July 7.30pm Paeroa 
Little Theatre
$20 Book: Arkwrights Antiques 

Thursday 3 July 7pm Tauranga 
Tauranga Art Gallery
$25 General; Friends of the Gallery and Students $20
Book: Tauranga Art Gallery 

Friday 4 July 7.30pm Hamilton 
Playhouse Theatre
Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, University of Waikato
$28; Seniors and unwaged $22; Students $10
Subscription ticket x 3 shows $60
Book;; 0800 TICKETEK; Academy Box office

Saturday 5 July 7pm Whitianga
Town Hall
Book: Whitianga Paper Plus

Wednesday 9 July 7.30pm Coromandel 
Kauaeranga Hall
Book:  Text 021 078 8675 or phone 07 868 9767 

Thursday 10 July 7.30pm Tokoroa 
Tokoroa Little Theatre
Book: Tokoroa Clothing Company 07 886 8488

Friday 11 June 7.30pm Hawera
Book: South Taranaki i-Site Visitor Centre 06 278 8599 

Saturday 12 July 7.30pm New Plymouth 
Theatre Royal,TSB Showplace 
Theatre seat $25; Table seat $30; Table of 8 $200
Book: TSB Showplace Box office; 0800 111 999;

Arts Festival Dunedin 2014

Penny Ashton’s stellar performance has been celebrated at Fringe Festivals across Canada and New Zealand. She will perform Promise and Promiscuity at the Jane Austen Festival in Bath just prior to her season in Dunedin.

Playing in some of the Festival’s smallest venues in both the city and Port Chalmers, this parlour room piece will be cosy, intimate and in your face! 

Playhouse Theatre, Dunedin
Wed 15 & Thurs 16 October, 8pm

Port Chalmers Town Hall
Fri 17 & Sat 18 October, 8pm

Details & bookings


Charmingly accomplished Cantabrian Penny Ashton (Good Morning, Radio NZ National, Hot Pink Bits) mashes up the Bon Jovi, bonnets and big balls with alacrity. Fresh from sell-out successes across Canada and New Zealand, Penny is delighted to be coming home to Christchurch where she first read Pride and Prejudice in 1987. 

Winner – Best Performance In A Comedy, Auckland Fringe 2013
Winner – Patron’s Pick Winnipeg Fringe 2013
Winner – Best Solo Show Female, Victoria Fringe Festival 2013

15-24 Jan 2014, 6.45pm 
BUSKERS BOUTIQUE, Old Boy’s Theatre, Christ’s College
60 mins  

Kuranui College Auditorium, Greytown
October 22, 2015, 8.00pm
Adult $34 / Friends $31

Nelson Musical Theatre
Sat 24 & Sun 25 Oct, 7pm
70 mins, no interval
ADULT $38 | UNDER 19 $20
GROUPS OF 6+ $34 pp (group bookings must be made at Theatre Royal)
Plus TicketDirect Service Fee 

Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2016 
Victorian Garden Conservatory 
Wed 24 & Thurs 25 Feb 2016 
8:00pm (Both Shows) 
Tickets:  $30 

3 – 21 May 2016
Tuesday to Saturday – 7.30pm
Sundays – 4.30pm
Reservations can be made by calling the Box Office ph. 04 801 7992.
Please note that there will be no performance on Saturday 14 May.
Price: $35 – $25 
Book Now!  

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016
Assembly George Square Studios (Venue 17)
Aug 6-14, 16-21, 23-29
Book here 

12 – 29 Nov 2020
Post-show Q&A Weds 18th Nov
Tues – Sat 7.30pm, Sun 4.30pm
$25 – $38

presented by Penny Ashton

Theatre , Musical , Comedy , Solo ,

1hr 10mins (no interval)

Multi-talented performer has audience laughing in minutes

Review by Ines Maria Almeida 14th Nov 2020

I heard earlier today on a not-so-funny podcast that a good storyteller gains the trust of their audience through humour. Penny Ashton knows all about this. She has the crowd cracking up within the first few minutes. Instantly, we know we’re in good hands with her capable, hilarious, and energising narrative.

Promise & Promiscuity is Ashton’s one woman show/musical hybrid that has taken her across the world from Stewart Island to Saskatchewan.

As you can tell by the title, Ashton is riffing off Jane Austen’s works: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion. If I’ve missed any of Jane’s work here, you’ll have to forgive me. [More


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Winning formula leaves audiences smiling

Review by Sally Woodfield 10th Aug 2016

Penny Ashton has brought Elspeth Slowtree back to Edinburgh and is once again enjoying full houses and a very warm reception. 

Her witty romp through Jane Austen novels, including 33 quotes taken directly from books Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, takes us into the life of Elspeth – a rather bright Edwardian young lady whose widowed mother (prone to fainting spells and calling for the smelling salts) is determined to marry her off: “At two and twenty you are young no more.” But Elspeth has a secret, hiding her secret life as a writer under the pseudonym Wilbur Smythe. “Men do not value thinking in a wife,” she’s told by her mother.

Ashton brings to life all eight characters of the story: her silly younger sister Cordelia, the posh Lady Wrexham and her braying son Reginald, his lisping cousin Thomasina, the pompous and mysterious Digby Darcy, and Elspeth’s rather revolting cousin Horatio who is ensconced in the familial home.

An audience member has a cameo role and is taught, and performs, a dance at the ball … and later becomes a love interest. 

Ashton works in plenty of modern references. There’s the pirate treasure of Donald Trumpelstiltskin, etiquette lessons from Kimberline Kardashian – “the name Kardashian has always been synonymous with class and refinement and I am certain it will be so in 200 years time,” says Mrs Slowtree – and a song by Elvis Prestwick. 

Ashton sings, dances, moves from character to character, plays ukulele and charms the audience with her humour and tongue-in-cheek wit. It’s a winning formula which leaves audiences smiling and deservedly has become a success in amongst the thousands of shows on offer at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Hoorah Penny!


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Frivolity and boisterousness abound

Review by Ewen Coleman 05th May 2016

Such is the clever and witty way that Penny Ashton parodies the novels of Jane Austen in her show Promise and Promiscuity that even Austen aficionados and purists won’t take offence.

In a highly polished, slick and expertly put together show that is full of energy from beginning to end, Ashton tells the story of writer Elspeth Slowtree and her quest for a husband. [More


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Humour and pathos a-plenty

Review by John Smythe 05th May 2016

To add yet another glowing review for Miss Penny Aston’s Promise and Promiscuity may be accounted an act of profligacy. Yet it would be remiss to ignore the advent of her remarkable performance in Wellington city at last, at Circa Two to be precise.  

That she has gone to the trouble to relocate her musical divertissement in ‘Wellingtonshire’ with witty reference to ‘Lower Huttington’ attests to a commitment that cannot go unacknowledged. Add to that the topicality of Mr Wilbur Smythe’s* piratical masterpiece, Fifty Shades of Arrr!, concerning the treasure of one Donald Trumplestiltskin, and mention of etiquette tutor Miss Kimberline Kardashian, and it is clear this work will remain as fresh as the roses on Miss Elspeth Slowtree’s cheeks, once her mother primps them, that is.

Promise and Promiscuity was born in 2014, five years after Miss Ashton conceived of, and first participated in, the ConArtists’ celebrated improv show, Austen Found – the undiscovered musicals of Jane Austen. The musician for those sorties into spontaneous literary satire was Robbie Ellis and here he has teamed up with Penny Ashton to create a fully scripted musical of impeccable taste and quality.

Mr Ellis’s fully orchestrated arrangements of pieces by Johann Strauss Snr and Jnr, Delibes and Beethoven, and of ‘Greensleeves’ (not by Henry VIII), recorded by skilled musicians in Otago (where Mr Ellis was the University’s Mozart Fellow in 2012) add immeasurably to the quality of the show, embellished by Miss Ashton’s accomplished singing and dancing.

Indeed not only does Miss Ashton deliver her own and Jane Austen’s deliciously witty and eloquent text with due alacrity and vocal panache but she also personifies her plethora of Austenesque characters with admirable physical dexterity.

Elspeth Slowtree is the relatively calm centre of sense and sensitivity in a home dominated by a Mother desperate to marry her off to some eligible man to regain the fortunes lost by her dissolute Father, now dead. Her excitable sister Cordelia would be only too happy to oblige but, despite the misplaced pride and grotesque prejudice of Lady Wrexham, her eligible but profligate son Reginald is more than a little taken with Elspeth.

Meanwhile, at the obligatory ball (the very mention of balls incites many a saucy quip), cousin Horatio, in possession of the familial home, is snuffling about for a wife, lisping cousin Thomasina is on a quest for the supposed sinecure of wedlock, and the blunt and circumspect Mr Digby Darcy is poised to have his pompous prejudice against the prospect of a woman writer profoundly punctured.  

Much entertainment is gleaned from the spectacle of a man being plucked from the audience and taught a trippingly executed Regency period dance. This night a Mr William Stokes obliges, much to our admiration. Little does he know that he too has been entered in the marital stakes and will prove a winner.

Even before the show starts the Flamingo Books logo on the programme cover will bring a smile to your lips. And dotted throughout Miss Slowtree’s prognostications as to how it will be “in 200 years” are alternately amusing and sobering.

There is humour and pathos a-plenty in the play’s 70-mintute traverse of the stage. In the time-honoured manner of a tale well told, all seems lost before it is found. It will be no surprise to reveal the ending is happy – as indeed are the audience members. Abuzz with the pleasure of being transported to another time and place that has much to say to ours, and at witnessing Miss Ashton’s multiple skills, many line up to purchase a fridge-magnet memento. I suppose we may call this ‘promotional promiscuity’.

Unlike other Comedy festival shows, Promise and Promiscuity is enjoying a three-week season at Circa Two. But don’t be complacent: word-of-mouth is bound to see it book-out swiftly. Thence – having already played throughout new Zealand – it will travel to Toronto, Winnipeg, Edinburgh and Dunedin before finding some point of focus in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death (18 July 1817).
 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
*I should declare an interest concerning my several-times great uncle Wilbur Smythe, were it not for the fact that he himself is a fiction. In this, Miss Elspeth Slowtree has proved more judicious than her antipodean literary descendent Sybylla Melvyn who – 90 years after Sense and Sensibility launched Jane Austen’s career at last – failed to don the mask of masculinity to validate her vocation. Being Australian, however, her creator, Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin, did have the wit to drop her feminine given names in order to ensure publication of My Brilliant Career.  


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heroine, supported by a cast of ninnies and prigs, fops and fools, and the occasional person of sense

Review by Cate Prestidge 25th Feb 2016

In the Victorian Garden Conservatory in Hamilton Shire, Mother and I remove our bonnets, smooth our skirts and put aside our lady-like embroidery in preparation for some genteel entertainment from Miss Penny Ashton.  

She has the audience on side from the start with her introduction to, and characterization of, the poor impoverished Slowtrees: Elspeth, our scholarly heroine; her energetic younger sister Cordelia; her hysterical, Bennet-esque mother.

Elspeth covertly writes ‘manly’ pirate stories for the local paper under a male pseudonym, harbouring a desire to be taken seriously. Given her advanced spinsterhood (22!), her mother just desires Elspeth to be taken, full stop. “Men do not favour thinking in a lady,” she implores.

A Jane Austen aficionado, Ashton weaves characters, lines and plot elements from well-known works into the script, along with cleverly inserted cultural references. The audience enjoys the pointers from etiquette expert Kimberline Kardashian, amongst others (and you can be assured, we shall never show the interior of our bonnets to any passersby).

We hope for, and are delivered, some delightful set pieces with romantic twists and turns for our heroine, supported by a cast of ninnies and prigs, fops and fools, and the occasional person of sense. Ashton takes on all the characters, moving cleverly and seamlessly between them in often rapid fire conversations.

Cousin Horatio is a particularly repulsive audience favourite, as is dizzy Mrs Slowtree. Ashton’s vocal clarity and characterisations are terrific, and well matched by her confident physicality in the different roles. 

Robbie Ellis created the music for the show by re-working and recording familiar pieces in a range of styles and musical genres, to accompany Ashton’s lyrics. She has a lovely voice and a big romantic torch song is a highlight.

Rife with wordplay, her script cracks along with just enough pause for the audience to clock the jokes and innuendo. Her stage savvy means occasional interruptions are simply added in, and she is happy to cue us in on a couple of occasions when we were a bit slow on the uptake. It’s great fun. 

The last time I saw Ashton was at the Gardens Festival with her show Hot Pink Teeth ’n’ Tits. She was terrific then too. I think we’re fortunate that this internationally regarded New Zealand performer makes the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival a regular gig on her performance calendar.

She gets a standing ovation tonight, and quite right too. Get a ticket if you can. 


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Claims the hearts of her audience

Review by Ann C Nighy 24th Oct 2015

Penny Ashton loves her work. Promise and Promiscuity is an extraordinary seventy minutes, enjoyed by her, written by her, with the help of Jane Austen. It makes me feel faint knowing she is the writer, performer, producer and the owner of other roles.

Penny amuses the audience with her inclusion of Nelson place names and by including a member of the audience, she has everyone’s undivided attention, so much so that she has to adlib, to get herself out of a tricky situation. Overcome with amusement she talks her way, in a Jane Austen way, out of the difficulty.

She likes the audience to indulge in the amusement of things not happening, as she portrays them, in two hundred years time. She borders on being smutty, certainly something the audience enjoys.  

How well Penny sings. Robbie Ellis writes music she likes. Here also, Ben Crowder must be mentioned as he contributes much to the production.

All in all Penny Ashton knows the way to the hearts of her audience. The Nelson Musical theatre is an ideal venue for her show and she tells us both shows are ‘sold out’. 


Editor October 25th, 2015

Abject apologies Penny - my oversight entirely. Fixed now. 

Penny Ashton October 25th, 2015

Hello. Thanks for the nice words. As you said twice though my name is Penny, not Jenny.

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A comedic and literary success

Review by Juanita McLellan 23rd Oct 2015

The combined talents of Penny Ashton and Jane Austen bring “Promise and Promiscuity” to a place that I could never imagine: total hilarity.

While we are all aware of the literary might of Jane Austen, having left her mark over the last 200 years, she is not the first name we think of when it comes to comedic theatre.  Penny Ashton however is well known in this field, and has brought laughter to us all. 

Promise and Promiscuity is a simple tale of a very sensible Elspeth Slowtree, who in her twenties is woefully old and searching for a husband, to secure both her own future and the fate of her family.  Her mother clearly desires her to marry for money, while her sister Cordelia has decided to marry for dancing instead. 

Elspeth however has a secret: she has been writing stories, published in the local newspaper.  Her tales of swashbuckling pirates under the pseudonym Wilber Smyth have been a roaring success and it is, of course, a complete secret from everyone that they were written by a woman.  Whoever would have thought such a thing. 

The one-woman show goes to fantastical lengths, combining classical music, pop culture references, feminist ideals, innuendo and dance.  Ms Ashton is a delight to watch as she creates the whole cast, and the Regency period, by herself.  She pulls lines from the works of Jane Austen, as well as the character archetypes we know, but carefully modernises them so that we get a clear idea about what women are capable of, without being preached to. 

The musical sections are a delight, from the modern songs sung to classical music, as well as a song about a pirate played on the ukulele.  The costumes are a fun interpretation of the Regency style, but with bright colours bringing them into a more modern era. 

A comedic and literary success, Promise and Promiscuity has the audience roaring with laughter; Penny Ashton’s performance is energetic and charismatic.  The whole show is a delight not to be missed. 


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An assured and completely engaging presence

Review by Lindsay Clark 16th Jan 2015

It is easy to see why this clever refabrication of the Miss Austen’s creations has been so enthusiastically received wherever the talented solo performer/writer has taken it, most recently Bath. 

On her way to establishing a new/familiar Austen world with music, Penny Ashton has demonstrated a few universally acknowledged truths of her own, namely that we never tire of shrewd social observation, especially when it is delivered with unflagging elan and good humour. 

Flawless transitions between characters allow a richly peopled story to develop with a deft comedic overlay which is pure delight. We are in the world of Miss Elspeth Slowtree, whose writing of a novella about pirates will eventually prove that she at least is neither ninny nor nincompoop, thus winning the top prize of matrimony from the hand of a suitable gentleman.

At a dazzling pace we meet her fluttery, obsessive mother, her bouncy sister, cousin Horatio, pinched upper crust Lady Wrexham, her poetic son Reginald, Thomasina who has been ‘chosen’ for him and his friend Digby Dalton … And who will eventually win the heart of our talented Elspeth? A wonder, then, that there is breath left for songs set to classical music or dealing with a few technical ‘moments’ with cues. 

But Penny Ashton is in fine form: an assured and completely engaging presence, whose quicksilver romp through her material keeps her audience rapt. In the best busker tradition, there is even time to teach a little gracious dancing, but the comedic physical and vocal enhancing of Austen types and scenarios (even the horses are re-presented) is the key to the show’s success. 

Bravo Penny Ashton!


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Bewitching promiscuity

Review by Terry MacTavish 16th Oct 2014

Dunedin justifies its claim to become a Unesco City of Literature by clasping the renowned author of Promise and Promiscuity to its rapturous breast.  “A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can,” writes Jane Austen, tongue firmly in cheek.  Thankfully Penny Ashton has completely disregarded this ironic advice and shows herself to be very erudite indeed, cleverly mining Austen’s works, most especially Pride and Prejudice, to produce a sparkling modern jewel in an authentic period setting.

The plot, familiar to readers of Austen, is revitalised by the fact that all the exquisitely humorous characters are played by Ashton.  Our heroine, Elspeth Slowtree, has the vivacious charm of Elizabeth Bennet with the similar handicap of an exuberant younger sister and embarrassing mother.  Mrs Slowtree’s business in life is to marry off her daughters, as her husband, having lost his fortune in the Great Nutmeg Crash, has inconsiderately died, his property entailed on disgusting Cousin Horatio, who plans to propose to Elspeth.  

Like Austen, Elspeth is a secret author, hiding her manuscript when visitors arrive, though unlike Austen’s her tales are of pirates (50 Shades of Arrr) and published under the name of Wilbur Smythe.  A woman cannot earn her living by her pen however, and Elspeth recognises that her duty is to accept the highest bidder, though still she yearns for “a man who doesn’t want a cabbage for a wife”.

A grand ball (yes, every possible pun is employed) is a plot necessity, and there we are introduced to the ghastly Lady Catherine de Bourgh clone, snooty Lady Wrexham, and her cheerful son Reginald, his friend the proud Mr Digby Dalton, and their infatuated admirer, lisping Thomasina.   

The plot is most entertaining, and Ashton in her pink Empire gown switches roles with well-rehearsed economy yet absolute clarity.  Each character (even the horse!) has its own walk, from a strut to a prance to a waddle, its own distinctive voice and, thanks to Ashton’s extraordinarily mobile mouth, its own quirky facial expression.

The most extreme portrait is that of revolting Cousin Horatio, convincingly delineated by Ashton with no more than a few snorts and hands placed over a protruding belly.   His pompous proposal to Elspeth is the scene that owes most to Austen, presumably because the original Mr Collins is such a classic creation Ashton could not better him.  She can and does however add effective details:  wince at his terrible similes; shudder at his utterly gross tea-drinking!

The narrative scampers along brightly, accompanied by catchy songs, my favourite being a brilliant number drawn from a genuine book on etiquette: “When talking to a man, be as trifling as you can.”  Sage advice.  As well as her singing, Ashton (who’d have been a ballerina but for her pesky need to eat) delights us with some neatly executed Regency dances.  I am tickled with the way she carries off the difficult feat of partnering herself as both man and woman – not easy at all.

A serendipitous choice of victim from the audience for the ballroom scene sees none other than Sir Julian Smith, owner of the Otago Daily Times, dragged blushing onto the stage to be taught a dance.  “Smith? No, no, what’s your real name?”  The audience howls, Sir Julian is enchanted and proves surprisingly adept.  Is it a coincidence that the next edition of the ODT carries on the front page a gorgeous photo of Ashton, complete with blue parasol, leaping joyfully in the Botanic Gardens? 

By now the audience is positively riotous.  “Are they drunk?” asks my guest wonderingly.  No, just on a Regency high.  Having myself frequently played Austen (most recently Lady Susan in a Globe fundraiser), I can assert with confidence that as well as being exceptionally intelligent, Janeites have a wicked sense of humour and love to laugh.  While recognising Austen’s actual lines with satisfied grunts, they are far too liberal to be offended by the saucy innuendo with which Ashton peppers the script.  Neither are the cute references to modern times lost on them, nor Elspeth’s optimistic conviction that things will be much better for women in 200 years’ time…

The Playhouse Theatre is the perfect venue, its old fashioned proscenium arch stage with velvet curtains, folding screen and potted plant making me think of the theatricals at Mansfield Park.  On her outside the grand old lady is getting a ravishing mural of fairy tales, courtesy of DCC Keep Dunedin Beautiful. 

There has been no chance for a tech rehearsal and there are plenty of glitches with sound and occasionally lighting.  They merely add to the hilarity, as Ashton is expert at improvising witty cover-ups.  At one priceless moment she fills in with a trick – balancing her tea cup on her magnificently uplifted bosom.  It is now my ambition to see the wonderfully spontaneous Ashton playing Theatre Sports, at which apparently she excels. 

The curtain-call is a mini-performance, each character identifying him or herself with a swift twitch of face and twist of limb.  There is a generous plug for the clever chap who wrote the music for P and P, Robbie Ellis, himself performing elsewhere at the Festival, and for another stunning solo show, Nick: An Accidental Hero.  Ashton is blessed with a warm personality that makes you sure she would be a delightful friend.  

The charmed audience lingers to chat with her and purchase a fridge magnet, “…or no, dammit Miss Ashton, I’ll take the whole set!”  As Darcy was by Elizabeth, the audience is clearly bewitched by Elspeth Slowtree, aka Miss Penny Ashton, despite, or perhaps because of, her wanton promiscuity!


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Smooth flow of subtle innuendo, contemporary references and Austen's own words plus music

Review by Antony Hodgson 13th Jun 2014

Getting dressed for the theatre and walking the 700m down Highway 60 that leads us to The Mussel Inn is one of the simple pleasures of our life. The Mussel inn is well known as a music venue that many national and international artists seek to include on their NZ tours. It also stacks up well as a small intimate theatre venue and last night Penny Ashton brought her solo show Promise and Promiscuity to our doorstep.

The Regency period stage set of Promise and Promiscuity felt strangely normal as we walked in last night and after catching up with our neighbours we settled in with a pint of locally brewed beer: perfect.

I must admit to being unsure as to what I was about to see; whether it would be a bawdy show passing a glancing blow to the writings of our beloved Jane or some kind of Austen mimicry for the sake of laughs. To my delight Penny Ashton produces for us a well-rounded show with a plethora of well-defined characters from snobbish young ladies, through apoplectic mothers to piggish 2nd cousins with an outrageous penchant for infelicitous compliments.

The story focuses on the personal and literary development of Miss Elspeth Slowtree who has been writing in secret under the pseudonym of a Mr Smythe (Wilbur, not John).

The show trips lightly off Ashton’s quick tongue, finely supported by her well-presented breast. Subtle innuendo, contemporary references and Austen’s own words mix together in a smooth flow that carries us along for the hour long ride, her obvious ease with an audience in close quarters keeping us well engaged. The all singing, dancing and ukulele playing Ashton presents in a range of theatrical styles from slapstick to drama to the ‘Broadway belt’ of musical theatre, with a couple of her characters deliciously inspired by Commedia del Arte.

The show is underscored by music created by Robbie Ellis from a montage of pieces by Strauss, Beethoven and Delibes to new compositions and snatches of popular songs. An ABBA and Austen mashup is surprisingly effective. The music forms a significant part of the piece, deepening the pathos and supporting Ashton’s work. The piece is also well supported by an effective technical design and operation that gives good effect to the comedic timing. 

This show is part of the Arts On Tour offerings and will be playing throughout the country for the next 6 weeks. If you love Jane Austen, go, you won’t be offended. And if you are indifferent to her charms, go anyway, there is enjoyment to be had. 


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The best match for sav blanc since salmon risotto

Review by Kathryn van Beek 06th May 2014

If you enjoy cultural mash-ups, fan fiction, 80s pop songs, rollicking romances and ludicrous puns, then get on your trusty steed and charge down to the Herald Theatre to check out Promise and Promiscuity, a new musical by Jane Austen and Penny Ashton. 

Liberally splattered with Austen quotes and pop culture references, the swashbuckling tale tells the story of sisters Elspeth and Cordelia Slowtree, their attendance at a rather large ball, and their mother’s attempts to marry them off.

Unfortunately Elspeth’s more interested in smutty pirate fan fiction than in unsuitable suitors, and her boisterous sister refuses to settle for anything less than true love.  

Ashton plays all the characters including show pony Reginald, proud and prejudiced Digby, the revolting cousin Horatio and condescending socialite Thomasina. Her excellent characterisations and her ability to crack herself up make her a delight to watch.

With a smattering of songs, a jig or two, a ukulele, a guest appearance worthy of Dancing with the Stars and a rather enchanting curtain call, Promise and Promiscuity is the best match for sav blanc since salmon risotto.


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Literary witticism, acerbic satire, musical mirth and dollops of double entendre

Review by Robert Gilbert 13th Apr 2014

In Rangi Ruru’s 125th year, it is thrilling to have some luminary Old Girls return to grace the stage of their old high school. Ali Harper’s Bombshells, in October last year was a sell-out success, and Anne Chamberlain’s Eglantyne, scheduled for May, promises to be a powerful homage to another courageous and revolutionary woman, Eglantyne Jebb. So, Penny Ashton finds herself in fine company among her stellar alumna and it is with great relish that she struts, preens, and pouts her way through what is a lightening-paced and riotous parody. 

Promise and Promiscuity, as a self-penned poke at Pride and Prejudice, is the perfect vehicle for an actress at the height of her power, for Penny Ashton is a virtuosa of rare skill. The stage is littered with a clutch of characters, each made manifest by sublime physicality and dexterous facial contortions that keep the audience whooping in delight and recognition.

Every character is a lesson in human nature and study societal snobbery. The lemon-lipped Lady Wrexham and her withering son Reginald, the dashing Digby Dalton, the lisping Thomasina, and the suppurating horror that is Horatio have us all sniggering at the frivolities and mindlessness of the middle-class.

However it is as the central character, Elspeth Slowtree, that Penny Ashton shows us her real acting chops. Elspeth’s passion for writing, her hopes, dreams, failures, and triumphs are all played with understated sensitivity that balances beautifully against the other broader comic characters.

Ashton’s own writing is razor sharp and she manages to weave literary witticism with acerbic satire, and musical mirth with dollops of double entendre.

Watching each character take a bow at the rapturous curtain call reminds us of the awesomeness that is Penny Ashton. Witness this gem at NZ International Comedy Festival in May, or the nation-wide tour in June and July. Fan of Jane Austen or not, Promise and Promiscuity is a theatrical treat not to be missed.


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Fast-paced romp with song and dance earns universal appreciation

Review by Bronwyn Elsmore 28th 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.


Stuart Grant March 9th, 2013

..and there is little so reportable as a swift rectification.

Editor February 28th, 2013

Dear Miss Ashton, While it is with profound regret that I learn of the error we perpetuated concerning the precise location of your inestimable performance, it is now with pleasure that I am able to report swift rectification. 

Penny Ashton February 28th, 2013

Hurrah, thanks ever so.  Just a small note, is in the theatre not in the foyer, though I imagine anyone would figure that out pretty smartly and not just sit there and wonder why everyone else had gone into the theatre.  But your encouragement has given me great heart Miss Elsmore!

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