Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Theatre: Promise and Promiscuity

Written and performed by Penny Ashton
With material from Jane Austen
Teatro 2, Pleasure Gardens
Until Feb 3

(★ ★ ★  ½)

One can only imagine what Jane Austen would have made of the Fringe, but I suspect she would have been pleased by Penny Ashton’s one-woman homage to her, even if a little taken aback at times.
She would have remembered some of the lines, though, because she wrote 33 of them, strategically sprinkled throughout seventy minutes of drawing rooms, carriages and, especially, balls.
Austen also would have also recognized the story. Lovely (but dangerously nerdish) Elspeth Slowtree battles against the marriage plans of their Mama for her and little sister Cordelia. Meanwhile, she is secretly earning a small income writing pirate stories for the local paper, The West Quiglian, the family having been left in genteel poverty by their late father.
Suitors come and go, but then — here comes love, in the form of the dashing Reginald Wrexham. Their minds meet, their hearts do too. Before you know it, Reggie is off to seek the blessing of Lady Wrexham for their nuptials. Uh oh…

The rest, including the surprise happy ending, is straight out of the Austen instruction manual.
While the trials and tribulations of Promise and Promiscuity ebb and flow, we’re treated to some delicious musical tomfoolery; Amongst some tidy original songs by Robbie Ellis, Mama teaches her gels etiquette to Strauss’s Tritch Tratch Polka, Elspeth’s heart breaks to Beethoven’s Fifth and Reginald’s ditsy sister Thomasina drinks tea in, and to, An English Country Garden.
Ashton skips (literally) between her many characters, and is a joy in all of them. She’s animated, girlish – and boyish and ladylike – and wittily wicked. If some of her many characters are a little tough to separate in the flurry, there’s barely time to worry about it.
Nothing seems to worry Ashton. Her head mike failed just before the performance, but her dialogue, unaided, was as clear as a bell. Decidedly un-Nineteenth Century music came blaring in from an adjoining tent; Europe’s hideous Final Countdown might have been the last straw, but not for this trouper.
If you love Austen, you shouldn’t miss this. If you don’t, you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself.

This review appeared in The West Australian 3.2.15

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