13/06/2023 - 17/06/2023
28/02/2024 - 29/02/2024
A Shrew’d Comedy by Will Shakespeare and Penny Ashton
Created and performed by Penny Ashton
Directed by Ben Crowder
Sicily’s beloved King Enzo is dead. Now Princess Rosa, a stroppy spinster, must navigate the tempestuous waters of belching Step-Fathers, lusty suitors, popping cod pieces and menopausal witches, to face her destiny.
Award Winning Comedian Penny Ashton (Promise and Promiscuity, Olive Copperbottom) presents her latest literary solo musical with this world premiere Shakespearean frolic. She’ll spark 13 characters into life in an Elizabethan tale of magic, meddling and puffed bull’s pizzles.
Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Avenue
13 – 17 June 2023
Prices: Choose What You Pay
Costume – Elizabeth Whiting
Music – Robbie Ellis
Tech – Bekky Boyce
Theatre , Solo , Musical ,
A well-crafted and deftly performed production of a witty and intelligent show
Review by Leigh Sykes 14th Jun 2023
Before I begin, I have a couple of confessions to make:
Firstly, I’m a Shakespeare nerd – I love the stories, the characters, the language (two of my tattoos are quotes from Shakespeare plays) and most of all I love to see the plays performed live.
Secondly, I’m ashamed to say that this is the first of Penny Ashton’s trilogy of literary solo shows that I’ve seen, which seems to put me in the minority in this opening night audience. Ashton has already delivered her take on Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, and now she’s taking on William Shakespeare, bringing an appreciative audience with her.
Since this is the first of Ashton’s shows that I’ve seen, I have little idea of what the show may offer but, as a self-confessed Shakespeare nerd, the fact that the show is described as a ‘Shakespearean frolic’ means that my expectations are super high.
It’s clear from the start of the show that language will be an important feature, with the first section delivered entirely in verse. Ashton is immediately engaging, and she connects strongly with the audience. After this introduction, Ashton dives straight into the most impressive aspect of her performance: the ability to seamlessly switch between a wide range of characters, which allows her to set the foundation for the rest of the show with speed and economy. It is delightful to see her establish characters so clearly with voice and gesture, and also very funny at one or two points later in the show when there is a mix up with characters that Ashton unashamedly acknowledges to the audience.
The Tempestuous draws on a range of Shakespeare’s plots, mixing them with character and plot tropes from a wide range of films, plays and TV shows. One particularly funny section draws a quiz show and a dating show together to hilarious effect. Magic, cross-dressing, witty (and bawdy) insults and mixed up families are also familiar from Shakespeare’s plays and Ashton uses these elements judiciously to drive the plot forward – in which a King Guido and his new wife are trying to arrange a marriage for their tempestuous daughter Princess Rosa, setting in motion a narrative that borrows heavily from many well known plays. Recognising these plays and tropes is a huge part of the fun, and Ashton is very accomplished at striking a balance that is sympathetic to these tropes rather than mocking them.
The show moves at a fast pace and the very funny script appeals to those who are acquainted with a wide range of Shakespeare’s plays (I spot references to Hamlet, Macbeth, Much Ado about Nothing, Romeo and Juliet as well as The Tempest and probably more), as well as those who are less familiar with them.
Ashton has done a great job of identifying aspects of plays that fit this new story, and are still recognisable, often twisting and adapting well known lines to make them fresh and fitting (and funny). Princess Rosa takes charge of her own destiny in this play, refusing to accept her parents’ suitor and giving plenty of opportunities for magic and mayhem to unfold.
Music (orchestrated, composed, conducted, produced and edited by Robbie Ellis) is also used purposefully throughout the show, with a range of recognisable melodies adapted into songs. Ashton’s voice is well suited to these musical interludes and the lyrics are very clever. Once or twice, it does feel as though the song is not driving the show forward, but the technical skill on show is always admirable.
The show is most Elizabethan in the way that the audience is a vital part of the whole. From the beginning, Ashton engages with us and responds genuinely and wittily to a range of happenings in the audience (I suspect everyone in the audience will double check their phones before a performance after one very funny interaction). The audience is very clearly part of the show both knowingly (audience members are chosen to participate in sections of the show) and serendipitously (late comers into the show create a magic moment of theatrical response), meaning that we all feel a necessary part of the success of the show.
One of the audience participation sections showcases Ashton’s great ability to respond in the moment, as she keeps reminding her willing volunteer that the story is set in the Elizabethan period.
There are some hiccups and moments that do not go as planned during this first show, and Ashton plays these off with aplomb. She is able to handle small technical hitches while letting the audience know that she’s doing so, and this raises our appreciation of her skill. One extremely funny moment late in the performance sees her almost literally lose the plot, causing her to attempt the moment a few times before finally being able to carry on. At other moments, her quick-witted and genuine responses give an extra level of fun and shared enjoyment.
The laughs come thick and fast throughout the show, with Ashton herself having to pause for breath once or twice, such is the pace of the performance. There are many sly nods towards current events that are appreciated by the audience, and these moments are balanced with the very clever mashups of Shakespearean plots and characters and the wide range of puns used throughout.
This is a well-crafted and deftly performed production of a witty and intelligent show. I very much appreciate the skilful use of Shakespearean material throughout, and am very keen to see what literary genre Ashton decides to tackle next. This is definitely an Elizabethan show, and it is a pleasure to frolic through it with Penny Ashton as a witty and knowledgeable guide.
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