Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed 18 June
Penny Ashton presents a parade of Regency characters in her one woman show and her sharp wit makes us realise that some of them are still around 200 years later. Heroine Elspeth Slowtree aspires to be taken seriously as a writer and not to need a male pen name to be published. Mrs Slowtree just wants Elspeth to marry her revolting cousin Horatio so the family can resume their position, lost through the spendthrift ways of her husband and his inconvenient death.
Ashton’s characters are cleverly constructed from the attributes of Jane Austen’s characters and she freely borrows direct quotes from Austen’s best known books Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion (33 in all as she tells the audience following the curtain call). These references delight the audience and Ashton’s talent is to meld them into a seamless performance with her own excellent script which includes up to date pop culture and local geographical references such as ‘Adelaideshire’.
The simple set of a desk, chairs, screen and a potted tree were used to great effect by Ashton. We see Elspeth sitting shyly by the tree, hidden in the foliage of the conservatory at the ball; then it becomes part of the 300 acre wood ( a nod here to AA Milne) in a thunderstorm. Ashton creates the individual characters through a different stance, tone of voice, facial expressions and behaviour and the switch from one character to another is brilliantly done and I especially enjoyed the dance sequence where she switched seamlessly from one partner to the other as they promenaded up and down the stage.
The performance was further enlivened by Ashton’s wonderful singing combining parodies to classical music with a pirate ballad accompanied by a ukele. The music was well selected and Ashton credited Robby Alice who arranged and recorded it with a five piece orchestra.
All in all Ashton’s performance was excellent as was her brilliant thoughtful, witty and very well written script. She will be touring in Canada in early July and then presenting the show in the UK in time for the 200 anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, so if you have overseas friends tell them it’s a show not to be missed.
Reviewed by Jan Kershaw
Rating out of 5: 5