Sunday, June 18, 2017


Promise and Promiscuity.

A New Musical by Jane Austen and Penny Ashton.

 Artspace. Adelaide Festival Centre.  Adelaide Cabaret Festival. June 17 and 18. 2017

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Jane Asten aficionados will delight in Penny Ashton’s deliciously witty parody of the works of their beloved nineteenth century author.  Deliciously quirky,  decidedly modern and delectably funny, Promise and Promiscuity is a cleverly devised, ingeniously scripted and consummately performed pot pourri of Jane Austen’s most cherished novels of love, manners  and marriage of the Regency period.

Audiences will have a joyful time, recognizing the words of favourites such as, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion, interspersed with cheeky references to Donald Trumpelstiltskin, Martha Stewartson and Kimberline Kardashian.  Drawing on the familiar plots of Austen’s novels, Promise and Promiscuity constructs a tale in the style of Austen to coincide with the two hundredth anniversary of the author’s death on July 18th. Elspeth Slowtree, seated at a writing desk with a tea set made naturally in China disguises her female gender  in the pseudonym of Wilbur Smythe, renowned columnist for the Quigley Times, while secretly working on her adventure tale, The Fifty Shades of Arrr. Dressed in the finest Regency dress from her stylish haberdashery, David Jones, Slowtree tells us of her ill-fated love for Reginald Rexon and the peculiar fortunes of her life.

Penny Ashton as Elspeth Slowtree. Photo by Judy Ashton
Ashton’s mercurial performance is a triumph of vivacity, embracing the style of the period and interspersing contemporary references with wicked innuendo and saucy double entendre. With chameleon swiftness she introduces her hyperventilating and proper Mama, her giggly, flighty sister Cordelia, the dashing Reginald Rexon, the snorting bumpkin cousin Horatio and the purse-lipped Lady Rexon. She mocks the vapid Thomasina Jiggins, her daffy rival in love, and is persuaded to review her opinion of the arrogant and aloof Digby Dalton.  It is a tale of love, manners and marriage for our time, with Love Me Tender by Elvis Preswick, a minuet with a member of the audience, and an 1808 lesson in morals and behavior for ladies of the Adelaide Shire who do not wish to be mistaken for the gypsies of Elizabeth Grove.

In true Jane Austen style Elspeth is granted her O Happy Happy Day and a lucrative contract with Flamingo Books. Foibles are exposed and resilience rewarded, and Ashton’s engaging performance  is as charming and inspiring as the enduring lessons of Jane Austen’s immortal stories.