The Brisbane Powerhouse will be filled with frolicsome pomp and ceremony when award-winning show ‘Promise & Promiscuity’ makes its Queensland premiere at the 2017 Queensland Cabaret Festival.
A one-woman musical starring New Zealand actress, comedian and celebrant, Penny Ashton, ‘Promise & Promiscuity’ pokes well-mannered fun at the characters and storylines found within the pages of Jane Austen’s works.
An expert on all things Austen after performing in a Jane Austen improvisation show for five years prior to creating ‘Promise & Promiscuity’, Penny uses changes in vocal tone and physical attributes to portray nine different personalities. Quizzed on who her favourite is to play, Penny picks the character based on Marianne Dashwood from ‘Sense and Sensibility’.
“Her name is Cordelia and she is the silly sister. She’s very silly, romantic, funny and passionate so she’s probably my favourite… But I enjoy all the archetypes really.”
Faithful Austen fans will instantly recognise the 33 quotes scattered throughout the performance, however those unfamiliar with Austen’s work have been catered for also, with plenty of nods to popular culture incorporated into the show.
“I have Kimberline Kardashian the etiquette coach and the poetry of William Joel, his 'Pianoforte Man' poem and stuff like that, so there’s a lot in there for people who don’t know anything about Jane Austen.”
Given that Austen’s works provide social commentary on more genteel times, one would be forgiven for thinking that the show is targeted at women. Upon witnessing the positively indecent amount of innuendo, wit and satire within the show, many female audience members approach Penny afterwards to express their regret at not bringing their husbands.
“There’s lots of balls jokes, there’s a bit of innuendo and it’s a bit saucy. There’s a guy called Horatio who’s very much Mr Collins from ‘Pride and Prejudice’. He’s just gross. He snorts all the way through and farts a lot.”
Throughout the show, Penny sings and dances to classical music reworked by former University of Otago Mozart Fellow, Robbie Ellis, whom she has worked with on five of her shows.
“We sit down and go through all these classical pieces and figure out what works best for the dramatic moments in the show. He went away and rearranged it all and got together a little mini orchestra and recorded it and mixed it and presented it to me. There’s Strauss, Beethoven and Delibes with the 'Lakmé' duet.”
Since its world premiere in 2013, ‘Promise & Promiscuity’ has won a swag of awards including Best Performance in Comedy (Auckland Fringe 2013), Best Female Solo Show (Victoria Fringe, Canada 2013) and the Weekly Theatre Award, Week Three (Adelaide Fringe 2015).
“It was nice to get the theatre award in Adelaide because there was quite a big pool to choose from there. That was very exciting for me.”
Asked her opinion on the enduring appeal of Austen, Penny says, “I think the allure of Jane Austen is that it is all about the quest for love and security. Not just love, but love and security, which I think are very enduring themes today and why ‘Bridget Jones’ worked so well. Everyone is still looking for love and or security, so I think that’s what keeps it relevant.”
‘Promise & Promiscuity’ plays at the Brisbane Powerhouse on 10-11 June.