“An energetic, professional and immensely likeable production”
I knew about two minutes after this show started that it would be my first five star review this year. Firstly, the number of characters portrayed by solo performer Penny Ashton was incredibly impressive, I counted at least eight. From heroine Elspeth to her silly sister Cordelia, her pedantic mother and even her repulsive cousin Horatio, this is a tour de force in character acting from New Zealand’s answer to Sheridan Smith.
Each character was ripe with detailed facial expressions, physicality and accents, and Ashton even managed to have an incredibly convincing conversation with herself while performing both sides of a regency dance – not many actors out there can pull that off.
However, Promise & Promiscuity isn’t just incredibly acted, perhaps its real strength is the writing. The plot combines narratives, characters and even dialogue from some of Austen’s best known works to form a moving new story that speaks directly to a 21st century audience. Hapless Elspeth is forced to hide her talent for writing to please her mother’s wishes of finding a husband, whom she believes prefer their women not to outsmart them. And of course Elspeth must marry well to secure the family’s home and future, yuddah yuddah…
But this isn’t just another one of those tales of girl meets boy who’s out of her league and ends up marrying him despite his family’s objection; this is an intelligent, well researched and hugely comical reworking of the classics that’s bang up to date. Scattered throughout are many well-placed references to modern culture – from well-known etiquette teacher Kimberline Kardashian to the ongoing battle for gay rights. It also includes some wonderful period put-downs: “You peevish, dismodious puck-worm” in particular had me giggling well into the next scene.
Lest we forget, this show is also a musical, which includes such delights as Bon Jovi lyrics sung to Mozart – a surprisingly pleasant mix. While there weren’t as many songs as might have been expected, lyrics were always perfectly matched to well-known classical pieces, and always in keeping with the mood of the relevant scene.
Overall, it’s Ashton’s personality that shines through to make this production really magnificent. From the way she ushered in some latecomers as if it was all part of the act, to the way she recovered after taking too large a mouthful of “tea” on stage, right down to how each character had their own bow at the end. It’s an energetic, professional and immensely likeable production that had me smiling throughout.
Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 9 August)