The Tempestuous

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

13/06/2023 - 17/06/2023

Hamilton Gardens, Medici Court, Hamilton

28/02/2024 - 29/02/2024

Centrepoint, Palmerston North

13/04/2024 - 21/04/2024

Hamilton Arts Festival Toi Ora ki Kirikiriroa 2024

Production Details

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
Time: 8PM
Prices: Choose What You Pay

Hamilton Arts Festival 2024
Medici Court, Hamilton Gardens,
Wednesday 28 February 2024 6:30pm and
Thursday 29 February 2024 6:45pm
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Centrepoint Theatre 2024
280 Church Street, Palmerston North
13 – 21 April 2024
Wednesday • 6.30PM
Thursday • 7.30PM
Friday • 7.30PM
Saturday • 7.30PM
Sunday • 4PM
Opening Night • Saturday 13 April
Closing Night • Sunday 21 April
20% of profit funds and merch from opening night will go to Women’s Refuge Palmerston North, who are also turning 50 in 2024!

Costume – Elizabeth Whiting
Music – Robbie Ellis
Tech – Bekky Boyce

Theatre , Solo , Musical ,

70 minutes

Phenomenal energy, vivacity, versatility, inventiveness and humour

Review by John C Ross 14th Apr 2024

One female actor, one costume, with occasional add-ons (female), at least a dozen characters (mostly male) – she establishes them with posture, facial expression, ways of moving and speaking, and sundry other acting skills. Penny Ashton is a phenomenon, with phenomenal energy, vivacity, versatility, inventiveness and humour.

We’ve seen her get the better of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. This time she tangles with The Bard, and it’s a draw. She mingles some of his character-types, plot-elements and situations, and famous lines, with modern TV-show features and bits of contemporary, often feminist, diction. Her sex jokes are actually funny, unlike most of his.

King Enzo of Sicily has died and the new king, who has married his widow, and is a rather domineering character, is determined to marry off their only child, Princess Rosa, to Duke Olivani, a macho, up-himself type. At this stage she doesn’t want to marry anyone, least of all him. So she decides to masquerade as a man and present herself as a rival suitor for the fair hand of herself. Fortunately she has the witches’ magic on her side.

I find one later stage of the action a tad hard to follow, but that doesn’t matter. It is all very great fun and we all love Penny Ashton.


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Wonderful word wrangling and expert audience interaction

Review by Cate Prestidge 03rd Mar 2024

After delighting us with Regency manners in Promise & Promiscuity and Victorian tales of woe and triumph in Olive Copperbottom, Ashton is back in another fabulous frock for an epic Elizabethan tale.

We begin in familiar territory: a witchy Macbethian prophecy leads into the action in a far-off land (Sicily) where unlikeable, murderous and newly crowned King Guido has married his conveniently widowed sister-in-law, Queen Carlotta.

Anxious to secure a suitor of his own choosing for his independently minded stepdaughter, Princess Rosa (over-the-hill at 29), King Guido sets up an arrangement with foppish twit, Count Olivani.

Cue multiple accents and leaps across stage as Ashton brings the characters and action to life, aided by a simple set of a throne, bench and a basket of props.

The script is terrifically clever. Ashton is a wonderful word wrangler and has selected the juiciest Shakespearean quotes and plot twists from the likes of Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest and Two Gentlemen of Verona and peppered these throughout the play.

The fun is the way medieval insults like puffed bulls pizzle are appropriately aimed, and Elizabethan words are wedged alongside modern references, bawdy humour, lashings of feminism and a fair smattering of audience asides.

There’s a run of dodgy jokes as well, delivered by Olivani’s witless fool, and disclaimers that certain suggestions or behaviour were “perfectly acceptable and not at all creepy for the time period” were all well received.

Ashton is an expert at the ‘dark art’ of audience interaction and manages to cajole two assistant witches to help her spells, with hilarious cackling and, awkward spell-making.

There is no need to ask twice for a volunteer suitor for Rosa, one extremely keen man leaps up immediately and bounces onto the stage. Somehow this is more awkward than the less willing witches but Ashton shines with a sly aside and knowing nod to the audience.

The outdoor show has multiple interruptions, late arrivals, overhead helicopters and a smattering of noise from other gardens, but these are all integrated with her usual humour. She also deals with low volume and some wonky cues, integrating some gentle instruction to the tech both in and out of character.

At one point I think the wheels were falling off as I lose track of the emerging cast of 13 characters and their multiple accents – everyone from witches to Nurse, from Guido to goat – but she somehow manages to bring it all home making (almost perfect) sense.

The musical score by her long-time collaborator Robbie Ellis includes opera, ballet and jazz with the ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’, Mendelssohn’s ‘Wedding March’, ‘’Nessum Dorma, ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ all featuring.

Ashton’s singing is just lovely and carries the narrative well. She’s such an entertaining storyteller and huge fun. The audience loved it.


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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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