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Promise and Promiscuity Jane Austen musical at Greenwich Theatre

Penny Ashton
Penny Ashton

A ONE-WOMAN musical that lovingly sends up all things Jane Austen and won a theatrical prize against a field of 1,000 entrants at the Adelaide Fringe is coming to Greenwich Theatre for three nights from October 12-14 2017.

New Zealand writer Penny Ashton brings Austenesque characters to life in Promise And Promiscuity through song, dance, outrageous cross-stitching and… a ukulele love serenade.

“I believe her dialogue and characters are the best things about her work,” said Penny. “From fussy mothers to silly sisters to sensible heroines to malodorous suitors and downright evil dowagers. She has some withering one-line zingers and some delightfully sarcastic ripostes. I play nine characters in this piece and love jumping between their exaggerated selves.”

The idea for the show came in 2008 when a friend asked Penny to bring a show to a festival of improvisation. “I got together a group and we presented Austen Found: The Undiscovered Musicals of Jane Austen,” said Penny. “This went hugely well and was a lot of fun, but touring with five people was a little tricky on the purse strings so I condensed down a lot of the jokes we had improvised over the years into a solo musical show. Rather than perform an extant Austen text though, I wanted to harness the fond irreverence we found in improvising stories in her style and write a new story that was evocative of her world but was a surprise for one and all.”

I find Austen’s life very fascinating and quite the early feminist struggle, so wanted to bring a portion of that to the stage. My protagonist wants to be a writer who writes pirate novellas under the male pseudonym of Wilbur Smythe and is fighting against expectations of ankle propriety in 1809.

I also know not everyone knows about Austen so I injected a lot of pop culture references. The music was then all arranged and written by the fabulous Robbie Ellis, who conducted live musicians in the recording and presented me with fabulous tracks.

Penny has always been a big fan of what she calls “bonnet drama” and particularly loves Austen’s works brought to life. “One of my best cinematic experiences was when I was pulling pints in Soho at age 24. I had the afternoon off so I paid a small fortune for an Empire Theatre ticket to see Sense and Sensibility.

“I loved every minute of it. I swooned, I gasped, and I whooped and cried along with Emma Thompson, in the most decorous fashion, of course. I am a huge fan of Austen herself, she fought to be published for so long, then died only five years later. I would love her to come back and see what she has delivered the world, as she had no idea of the profound affects her sparkling wit would have.”

The dates at Greenwich Theatre helped swell the national tour to 14 theatres. “After selling out the Edinburgh Fringe twice I knew there was a taste for the show,“said Penny, “so I set myself the task of sending a gadzillion emails into the ether of the UK and Irish theatre world to book a tour.”

James, the theatre’s artistic and executive director, takes up the story: “The show was selling out in the venue next door to our own success, Hannah and Hanna, in Edinburgh in 2015. I knew immediately I wanted to bring it to London but as ever it took a long time to organize. I’m delighted we’ve finally been able to guarantee dates in London for the show.”

I am always interested in finding new approaches to music theatre, from our associate artists Filament Theatre who fuse multi-part a cappella harmony with physical theatre, to companies like The Letter Room and Middle Child who are bringing the experience of a music gig and a musical together. Penny has her own style, somewhere between musical comedy, improvisation and cabaret. I know that audiences here and around the UK are going to love it.

Listings – Promise And Promiscuity
Oct 4 – CONGLETON – Clonter Opera Theatre,
clonter.org, 01260 224 514
Oct 5 – BIRMINGHAM – Old Joint Stock Theatre,
oldjointstock.co.uk, 0121 200 0946
Oct 6 – SHREWSBURY – Walker Theatre,
theatresevern.co.uk, 01743 281281
Oct 10 – MILTON KEYNES – Stantonbury Theatre,
stantonburytheatre.co.uk, 01908 324466
Oct 12 – 14 – LONDON – Greenwich Theatre,
greenwichtheatre.org.uk, 020 8858 7755
Oct 16 – WINCHESTER – Theatre Royal,
theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk, 01962 840 440
Oct 18 – FAREHAM – Ashcroft Arts Centre,
Osborn Rd, ashcroft.org.uk, 01329 2231100
Oct 20 – NEW MILTON – Forest Arts Centre,
forest-arts.co.uk, 01425 612393
Oct 26 – CANTERBURY – Canterbury Festival,
canterburyfestival.co.uk, 01227 787787
Nov 2 – TRALEE – Siamsa Tíre –
siamsatire.com, 066 7123055
Nov 3 – KILLMALLOCK – Friar’s Gate Theatre,
www.friarsgate.ie, 063 98727
Nov 9 – LIMERICK, Belltable,
limetreetheatre.ie, 061 953400
Nov 10 – NENAGH – Nenagh Arts Cente,
nenagharts.com, 067 34400
Nov 15 – WINDERMERE – Old Laundry Theatre,
oldlaundrytheatre.co.uk, 015394 40872

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