New Zealander Penny Ashton’s one-woman tribute-cum-mickey-take of Jane Austen’s works – having garnered praise all over the world – stopped off all-too-briefly at The Ashcroft Arts Centre in Fareham.
Written as a musical by Ashton with major contributions from, amongst others, Miss Austen herself, Beethoven, Delibes and Henry VIII (allegedly) it’s a new Austenesque story full of conniving neighbours, brooding heroes, clucking mothers and an ultimately triumphant heroine – Elspeth Slowtree - all played with astonishing clarity and distinctiveness by Ashton.
For the songs, classical music is unabashedly hijacked and given lyrics (Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and The Flower Duet from Lakme stood out) and Ashton even accompanies herself on the very un-Regency ukulele.
The humour of the piece is a wonderfully clever mix of period and modern – the gentle comedy of Austen’s observational writing sitting comfortably alongside the doubles-entendres surrounding balls and nuts that would please a Carry On fan and even some of the very worst excesses of Shakespeare himself – you know, the bits they didn’t teach you in school.
No prior knowledge of Austen is assumed or necessary – although it does add to the smug-factor if you get the in-jokes – for this glorious piece of theatrical silliness.