Edinburgh Festival Fringe music review: Promise and Promiscuity: A New Musical by Jane Austen and Penny Ashton, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Sally Stott.
“Men do not value thinking in a lady,” Elspeth’s mother tells her. It sounds like it could be a line from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Maybe it is. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where New Zealander Penny Ashton’s writing ends and Austen’s begins. At other times it’s very easy, such as when her delightfully silly characters talk about going shopping down the “Primemarket” or declare “Every time I come to Quigley I’m reminded how glad I am I’m not poor.”
Also inspired by Sense and Sensibility and Austen’s own career as a writer, at a time when women sometimes adopted male pseudonyms to get published, it pays homage to the much-loved author by poking fun at class snobbery and mashing this together with the tone of a 1980s British TV comedies such as Blackadder. Playing all of the over-excitable ensemble, at the centre of which is the contrastingly astute Elspeth, Ashton is a sparkling performer whose energy bounces off the stage as she jumps, skips and dances through the show.
As the secret author of a serialised “pirate novella”, Elspeth is on a quest to find a man who doesn’t treat a woman “like a turnip”, and her cousin Horatio isn’t really cutting it.
Meanwhile her gregarious mother is keen to marry her off to anyone with more money than they, the struggling-but-not-that-struggling Slowtree family.
While it’s a one-woman show, Ashton conjures up so many funny little characters it feels like you’re watching a gloriously camp full-scale musical production.
With original songs (composed by Robbie Ellis), and the odd bit of Beethoven, Delibes and Strauss, Ashton sings with the charm of Julie Andrews, but also celebrates the determination of women to succeed throughout history despite having to put up with an awful lot of “bullshit”.
Assembly George Square Studios (Venue 17) until 31 August / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 26 August 2015
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