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.
$30 Seniors & Students
$25 under 25s
$30 groups 6+
Promise and Promiscuity – Review by EWEN COLEMAN
Created and performed by Penny Ashton
Circa Two, until May 21.
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.
Using many lines and characters from Austen’s books such as Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Emma, Sense and Sensibility and many more, and in a language not too dissimilar to Austen’s, she has fleshed out the story in a highly original way, albeit with her tongue firmly in her cheek, with liberal sprinklings of innuendo.
Like many of Austen’s novels, it is also full of intrigue in how the daughters secure their men, while the mothers look on, approving or disapproving, whichever the case may be.
A veritable array of well known Austen characters, including the aloof Mr Darcy in the form of Digby Dalton, are presented and are all played with great confidence by Ashton, using only changes in vocal tone and physical attributes. This is quite a remarkable feat, given the number of characters she creates, and it is to Ashton’s credit that each, both male and female, is well-defined and well-distinguished from one another.
The original music, composed by Robbie Ellis, also adds to the flavour of the piece and Ashton supplements the dialogue with a number of songs and period dancing, including a delightful piece with a member of the audience, which are all in keeping with the overall frivolity and boisterousness of the show.
And the delightfully authentic Jane Austen dress and accessories that Ashton uses, along with the period props, make this a unique and exceptionally innovative piece of entertaining theatre not to be missed.
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).
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*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.