ED2015 Interviews ED2015 Musicals ED2015 Week0 Edition

Penny Ashton: With a little help from Ms Austen

By | Published on Wednesday 29 July 2015


We’ve been covering this here Edinburgh Fringe for a long time, we may have mentioned that already. And over the last twenty years, thousands of performers have debuted, become Fringe regulars, and then, in many cases, moved on. But sometimes our former favourites pop back, and there is much rejoicing.
ThreeWeeks favourite Penny Ashton hasn’t appeared in these pages for quite some time, having not performed at the Fringe for a decade. But she’s back, and with a brand new show developed during that time with just a little bit of help from a certain Jane Austen. We caught up with Penny to find out more.

CC: Now, it’s been a while since we last saw you on the pages of ThreeWeeks. For the uninitiated, tell us the Penny Ashton life story. But in four sentences if you can.
PA: Born in New Zealand in 1974 and thrust onto the ballet stage early with a over-developed showing-off gland. Ditched the ballet when told to put methylated spirits on my blisters, and headed to pull pints in the UK and laugh at anyone ordering a half lager shandy with a lime top. Started performing comedy full time back in New Zealand and got bitten by the laughter bug. Made my first bonnet with a hot glue gun back in 2008 and started my Jane Austen stage career which resulted in many a Ball joke and finally arriving at my solo show – ‘Promise And Promiscuity’; which I have toured to New Zealand, Australia and Canada, and finally my life’s work culminates in Assembly George Square Studio Five. (I realise that last sentence broke grammatical errors in its length, but I’m a maverick. And these sentences in brackets don’t count).

CC: And what have you been up to since we last spoke. As in since we officially spoke in the pages of ThreeWeeks?
PA: Well, as that was ten years ago, quite a bit! I became a marriage celebrant in New Zealand, so anyone looking for a funny destination wedding come see me. I toured Canada five times and went to nearly every town in New Zealand with some show or other. My voice has been in loads of ‘Power Rangers’ and ‘Spartacus’ episodes and I’m the voice of Piety in the video game ‘Path Of Exile’. I got stroppier in my lady opinions. I helped my parents move house after the Christchurch earthquake flattened the family home. I got two little beings in my life in a niece and nephew who are pretty goddam cute. AND I manage to snaffle myself a fiance, the hilariously dangerous Matthew Harvey.

CC: And now let’s get properly up to date, tell us more about ‘Promise And Promiscuity’?
PA: ‘P&P’ is a one woman musical that is a brand new story in the style of the inimitable Ms J Austen. I’ve performed it over one hundred times and love inhabiting the world of bonnets, breeches and balls, whilst still knowing I can come home to the internet, antibiotics and better sanitary conditions afterwards. I play nine characters all evocative of famous Austen characters and the music is all classical pieces that I have added words to. I cross stitch very badly, dance very delicately and play the ukulele enthusiastically.

CC: Why a Jane Austen show?
PA: A friend asked me to come to an improv festival in 2008 with a new idea, resulting in ‘Austen Found’, where we improvised Austen-themed musicals. We had an absolute blast and realised there was quite the demand for her as well. We sold out our run at the Adelaide Fringe, and so I decided to write a solo show based on all the silliness we had improvised, incorporating her life and actual works into it as well. I just love her characters. Her dialogue sparkles and her feminism and sarcasm is something I can relate to.

CC: You performed at the Jane Austen Festival in Bath. Did the Austen fans like the show?
PA: Thanks be to Jane yes they did. I have had Jane Austen associations all over the world come to the show and they love spotting all the lines, characters and story threads they know. I see no point in alienating her very core audience, these women are not to be fucked with. Defiling their heroine would be terminal for the show. I also loved soaking in Bath’s historical gorgeousness and visiting the houses Austen actually lived in. That town is just amazing. Especially for a New Zealander, our historical buildings would hardly qualify in the UK, 140 years old aint nothing to you people.

CC: Should we read up on our Austen before coming to the show? Or is it accessible to the ignorant too?
PA: One of the things I am most proud of with this show is seemingly striking the balance of keeping it entertaining for everyone. I have enough pop culture and innuendo to keep anyone who thinks it’s spelt Austin entertained, and for those in the know there’s a world of quotes and layers to be found. But if you don’t know your Darcy from your elbow you’ll find lots to laugh at too.

CC: You promise 33 direct quotes from Austen’s oeuvre. How did you pick them? Do we get a prize if we can name them all?
PA: Yes, you’ll get a prize of a million pounds. I’m totally good for it. Just buy tickets to the show and we’ll go from there. I got my ‘Complete Works Of Austen’ off the bookshelf and sifted through looking for quotation marks. I wrote down a few hundred great quotes and then in the course of writing the show inserted as many as I could where it made sense to use them. Some were mandatory of course… “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that this phrase is chronically overused”.

CC: You’ve performed the show across the world already, how has it evolved?
PA: The characters have certainly become heightened. My cousin Horatio character snorts more, Thomasina lisps more and Lady Drusilla Wrexham bitches for England. I also discovered that I am related to Jane Austen’s flirtation and possible inspiration for Mr Darcy, Thomas Langlois Lefroy. I am his fifth Great Niece. It is the story told in ‘Becoming Jane’ with Anne Hathaway, and when I discovered that only two years ago I somehow felt even more connected to the story. I have also discovered the passion for Jane runs deep the world over.

CC: Are you looking forward to performing at the Fringe again?
PA: Of course. No point coming all this way and spending all this money if I wasn’t. I love doing this show.

CC: How will you be preparing for another Edinburgh jaunt?
PA: Coming all that way and spending all that money. Eating vitamins, stretching, getting my waterproofs ready, priming my fiance on his flyering techniques and practising running the gauntlet in preparation for trying to get across the mile.

CC: And what other shows are you planning on checking out while you’re in town?
PA: ‘Matthew Harvey Is Dangerman’ in PBH’s Free Fringe will be awesome, obviously. Also ‘Butt Kapinski’ from the States will be a great clown show, also with PBH. Two other hilarious clowns are Morro And Jasp and their ‘Puberty Show’ at the Gilded Balloon. Also ‘Puddles Pity Party’ and New Zealand’s own K’rd Strip at Assembly, both of which I have been meaning to see for ages. Juan Two, also at Assembly, will be hilarious and I may take in ‘Miss Behave’s Gameshow’ for a second time as it’s hysterical. And.. and… and…. so many hows!

CC: You mentioned you now have a second life as a marriage celebrant in New Zealand. Will there be any unions during the show?
PA: Well I do have an audience volunteer in my show and I would like an EU passport… so who knows.

‘Promise And Promiscuity: A New Musical by Jane Austen and Penny Ashton’ was performed at Assembly George Square at Edinburgh Festival 2015.

LINKS: hotpink.co.nz