A one-woman musical-of-sorts which New Zealander Penny Ashton says was co-written by her and Jane Austen (as we approach the 200th anniversary of Austen’s death), the often hilarious Promise and Promiscuity plays like a staging of a long-lost Austen novel in which almost every character is a fabulous, toffee-nosed twit. But we love them anyway.
We open with Ashton as Elspeth, a resident of ‘Adelaideshire’ and an Austen-esque young woman of the headstrong kind, secretly pens a pseudonymous pirate adventure called Fifty Shades Of Arrrr. She then skips back and forth between a series of characters as they prepare for a fancy ball (snigger, snigger). Elspeth is in danger of becoming a spinster at the grand old age of 22 and her awful Mum (who almost sounds like a Jennifer Saunders creation) is keen for her to marry, and we eventually get down to the business of her falling for Reginald, who doesn’t mind a woman with a mind of her own and isn’t a gormless idiot to boot.
Much witty fun is had with several songs. One is a pirate love ballad set to the tune of Greensleeves and another proves to be a wonderfully ghastly mash-up of Beethoven and Bon Jovi. When a punter is plucked from the audience for a dancing gag sequence he proves surprisingly light on his feet, at least at this performance. Certain spectators ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ as Ashton worked no less than 33 quotes from Austen novels into the show (as she confirms during a quick post-show address), but such high cultural material is slotted in beside more than a little spiritedly rude stuff about fingering pianofortes and the like.
A capital evening’s entertainment (as one of Ashton’s personae might have said), this devilishly clever and spiffingly enjoyable offering is such a jolly lark that you can’t help but think even Jane might have cracked a smile.
Promise And Promiscuity was performed at Artspace on Sunday June 18
Header photo: Judy Ashton