Award-winning Jane Austen musical comes to Milton Keynes

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 the Stantonbury Theatre for one night only on 10 October 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 abut 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 effects her sparkling wit would have.”

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