Promise and Promiscuity

Promise and Promiscuity
A New Musical by Jane Austen and Penny Ashton. Adelaide Fringe. Masonic - Owl Room at Gluttony - Masonic Lodge North Terrace. 20 Feb - 23 Feb - 1 Mar, 2020

There is a reason why Penny Ashton’s 70 -minute show is an award-winning romp through the rigidity, mores and strictures that society demanded during the 1800’s Regency period.  There are 33 quotes of Austen’s and the music, with aptly penned new lyrics, is ‘borrowed’ from the music of the period (but is much more fun this time). This show is impeccably penned, cleverly weaving in biting modern references with characters who are unashamedly created in the likeness of Jane Austen’s heroes and heroines. They include Mr. Donald Trumpleskin and the introduction of the doyen of modern manners, Miss Kimberline Kardashian whose work will undoubtedly still show us how to behave 200 years on.

The story abounds with nuance and well-planted double endentres. The routine about ‘small balls and big ones’ is delivered with wide-eyed innocence and at lightning fast pace so you almost do not notice how naughty Ashton is being. This piece is ‘period perfect’ with fabulous phrases such as ‘curmudgeonly crosspatch’, ‘fiddlesticks’ (the F word of the time we are told) and ‘pishposh’.

Ashton takes us to ‘Adelaideshire’ where impoverished Elspeth Slowtree is moonlighting under a male pseudonym, writing rollicking, published pirate tales, much to the chagrin of her despairing mother who is concerned that Elspeth, at two and twenty, is tumbling into spinsterhood. Wooing her is nasally challenged Cousin Horatio who snorts and snuffles his offer of marriage. Also, there are a bitchy upper class rival, dotty mothers and aunts and handsome cavalrymen (one of whom is a spineless bounder).

What is astonishing is that this is a one-woman show. Ashton moves from character to character, usually mid dance, journey, horse ride or conversation. Her voice and demeanor change and each character springs to life in vivid detail. Technically, the simple set and lighting work beautifully and the sound and music by Robbie Ellis is ‘spot on.’

This may sound like a ‘girlie show for history fans’. Not so. It is a reflection of a bygone period, but it is also a witty tale of a clever woman’s struggle to both survive and be taken seriously. The men in the audience loved it, particularly (spoiler) Mr. Smith, who was plucked from the audience to be taught a dance.

The venue is terrific and only a short distance from the other bigger venues. Staff are welcoming and helpful. Theatre drinks are available in the graceful lounge area and it is a ‘jolly good fun’ night out. Take a crowd. They will love it.

Jude Hines

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