There’s numerous Jane Austen related shows at this year’s Fringe (aren’t there ever?) Not all of them, though, can boast a relation to one of her most famous characters. At least that’s what Penny Ashton, writer and star of the affectionately mocking musical Promise and Promiscuity tells us she is. When we interviewed her, we had to ask…
How exactly are you related to Mr Darcy?
The much touted possible inspiration for Mr Darcy is Thomas Langlois Lefroy, the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, who early on in life had a flirtation with Ms J Austen – it’s the subject of the film Becoming Jane. They couldn’t be together, most likely for financial reasons. His nephew moved to Australia, and so five generations later my mother squeezed me out; I’m the fifth great niece of the man himself. She mentions him fondly in numerous letters and I freakin’ love that his lineage leads to me!
And which came first: discovering your ancestry or discovering Austen? Any chance there’s a little white lie being told here?
Well, my ancestry theoretically came first, what with it being how I was made and all, but I had been doing Jane Austen shows for five years before I found out I was even related to him. I knew exactly who he was after sobbing through Becoming Jane once after a break-up. I was totally surprised. My uncle had been doing some family tree work and emailed me out of the blue. It was awesome.
What exactly will you be doing in your show?
I will be talking, singing, dancing, emoting, bitching, bacheloring, sistering, mothering, discombobulating, butlering and behaving in a cadishly dickish manner. I play nine characters in a one woman musical that takes 33 of Jane Austen’s own lines but weaves them into a brand new story in her style. I also wear a bonnet that I made with a hot glue gun. Yay, technology!
How do Austen fans take to it? Anyone get precious or pernickerty about it?
I was worried about that, but though it is a parody, it’s an affectionate one. They seem to love recognising her lines and themes. It’s also got aspects of her own life in it which they enjoy spotting as well. So huzzah and thank God! One woman in Vancouver told me she didn’t like how I had portrayed Cassandra (Austen’s sister). I said it wasn’t based on Cassandra at all, but Marianne from Sense and Sensibility, to which she said haughtily, “Well, that’s alright then.” I have had numerous members of Jane Austen societies the world over come to the show, which is incredibly cool. There’s no point in taking the piss out of their heroine to the extent that they give me a delicately gloved finger salute.
As a Kiwi, how do you relate to the Englishness of it all?
Well I am from Christchurch, the most English of all the NZ cities (until a lot of it sadly fell down), but I do love getting ponced up in a corset, bonnet and frock and putting on the accent. I love period dramas/comedies so inhabiting that world is fun. You could say the irreverence I bring is a Kiwi thing, not afraid to subvert with our colonial upstartedness.
Who is your favourite Austen character and why? (You’re not allowed Darcy!)
I wouldn’t say Darcy; it actually irritates me the most referenced character from her canon is Darcy. Bloody men always stealing the limelight! No, Elizabeth Bennet, with her wit, sarcasm and intelligence, is my favourite. Closely followed by Marianne for sheer passion, exuberance and silliness. As to the men – I think Colonel Brandon’s the one for me.