20 October, Spiegeltent, HBAF18 By Gill Duncan
Stage right: A simple table and chair, behind a coat stand that hangs a pretty bolero jacket and matching bonnet; stage left a large house plant sits alone.
Enter stage left, to the strains of Moonlight Sonata, young Elspeth Slowtree wearing a Regency period sprigged floral pink puffed-sleeved day dress, possibly of poplin and purchased from Helensteinsmith’s if anyone is to be believed!
This is Penny Ashton’s heroine but first of many characters whom she brings into this parlor scene, (that is a carriage, a ballroom, and a wooded area in turn), and we are taken back in time to “Havelocknorthshire”, the haunt of early nineteenth century polite society.
Within moments we are quickly inveigled into a parody of Jane Austen’s world with story mainly told through brilliant dialogue and song set to a slick backing track.
The audience is laughing.
Her delicious use of stuffy formal English gives us the irresistible permission to laugh at ‘The Gentry’: the silly, the vain and the pompous.
Her toss-off at what are now ridiculous norms, the stultifying and prejudiced expectations and general repression under which the weaker sex operated, “Thinking does not enter into the equation”, is littered with hilarious sexual innuendo. There are repeated references to the two hundred years between and droll bastardization of current popular names such as the publishers “Flamingo Books”.
Using obvious and subtle techniques to superb effect Ashton easily persuades us to believe she is the handsome Reginald, the simpering Cordelia and back to repulsive snorting cousin Horacio, all of them in fact!
Such is her skill that we never blink an eye to see the sprigged floral pink puffed -sleeved Mr. Dalton proposing to the identically attired Miss Slowtree.
Penny Ashton has written this one-woman show with the help of 33 Jane Austen quotes from 1836. Touring internationally for the last four years her command of the stage and of her wonderful characters, along with her singing and ukulele prowess, is proof that this lady is no Nincompoop! Just learning the lines would be beyond the scope of most without varying the voices.
I adored this show and stood to show my appreciation of fabulous theatre. I look forward to catching Ashton’s next show: Oliver Copperbottom.
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