Promise and Promiscuity

The reimagining and retelling of a treasured work of literature can be a risky endeavour; New Zealand writer and performer Penny Ashton courageously took this plunge in her one-woman-show Promise and Promiscuity. Ashton describes this piece of theatre as collaboration between herself and Jane Austen, the 18th century writer who gifted the world with texts such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion. Ashton engages with Austen’s timeless values and narratives to bring us the character of Elspeth, a young woman battling against the gender obligations and expectations of her time. Using wit, song and dance, Ashton stages a charming and utterly hilarious revision of Austen’s iconic works.

Ashton was a riot of energy on stage as she jumped so precisely between the portrayal of various entertaining characters who were all exaggerated depictions of classic Austen personalities. Ashton’s physicality, vocal talents and unwavering commitment made such characters overwhelmingly comical. Paired with sharp staging, all character distinctions easily identifiable.

Songs were scattered throughout the 70-minute production, adding an additional layer of amusement and ridiculousness to the piece. Ashton also interacted with her audience, introducing us to an eager participant, Mr Lock, who hand a grand time dancing across the stage with our performer. Ashton’s talents in improvisation were on display in these moments as the inclusion of the audience only added humour and appeared organic and comfortable.

The aptitude of Ashton’s writing shone in her inclusion of contemporary pop-culture references: although Austen’s work is timeless, Ashton made it relatable and relevant. This was not limited to Austen’s advocacy against gender conventions, although droll comments on the long-standing gender pay gap were slipped in. Ashton also provided references to Fifty Shades of Grey, Kim Kardashian, Kmart, Donald Trump, and Billy Joel, with this list is only scraping the surface. Intertwining 18th century life with our current day perspectives highlighted how little this world and humanity has really changed: we are as hilariously absurd now as we were then.

The themes in Pride and Prejudice will never get old; hence, Promise and Promiscuity is built on an intertextual solid foundation. Although this piece is rooted in Austen’s work, it must be noted that the enjoyment of this show is not exclusive to those who are well-read or obsessive fans of Austen’s literature. Promise and Promiscuity is widely accessible, cheeky and uninhibited, particularly in the way it draws from the current day zeitgeist. Ashton, her chummy friendship with Austen, and her delightful production provides all audience members with the opportunity to have a hearty chuckle.

4.5 / 5 stars


Words by Michelle Wakim

Promise and Promiscuity is playing at Gluttony’s Masonic Lodge until March 1

For more information and to purchase tickets, click here

I Hate Cheesy-Romance Films. I Don’t Hate 10 Things I Hate About You.

10 Things I Hate About You is the best thing to come out of the 90’s.

I’m biased. I fully admit it.

I don’t like cheesy rom-coms because they bore me. But Ten Things I Hate About You isn’t like other rom-coms and you can pry it off my laptop hard drive from under my cold dead body. I’m making the assumption that you’ve watched this movie – but if you haven’t, do yourself a favour and see it. No one can argue with its engrossing story, excellent soundtrack, great cast, and the dynamite duo of 90’s Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles.

Ledger wears shiny pants, Stiles gets covered in paint and laughs about it – my uselessly bisexual self can’t handle it. I watched this movie so many times that my plan for an ideal date still revolves around the idea of spontaneous paintball that ends with us rolling around in the hay kissing. Don’t ask me how you can plan ‘spontaneous’ paintball, I’ve never worked that out.

When Valentine’s Day rolls around, with its inevitable emphasis on watching romantic films with your significant other, I always get to thinking about what a ‘romantic’ film actually is for me – beyond, of course, the self-insertion wish-fulfilment appeal of watching attractive people fall in love on a screen.

I think what draws me to the paintball scene is not the actual paintball or the kissing, but rather what the paintball and the kissing represent. It’s a moment between two people who let themselves be vulnerable idiots for and with each other. Throughout the film, we see Kat and Patrick fall for each other, making themselves vulnerable and finding that they’re accepted and understood by one-another.

It’s impossible to go on without mentioning the scene where Patrick hijacks the announcement system to perform ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You’ for Kat on the bleachers, complete with band accompaniment and dorky-fun dance moves. It’s a funny, cheesy, dumb-ass act and by no means is it a moment of swooning violins. But it works as a romantic gesture because of the vulnerability implicit in this act of ‘sacrificing himself on the altar of dignity’. There’s something real sexy about someone making a fool of themselves to make you laugh; making themselves vulnerable for you and hoping that you embrace and accept this part of them. There’s also something real sexy about Ledger’s singing, but that’s a given.

Arguably, it’s the mutual act of seeing and being seen by one another that allows for Patrick and Kat’s paint balling scene. It doesn’t matter that they act foolish in front of one another in this scene, because it’s already been done in front of everyone else. Patrick and Kat can just be in the paint balling scene – they don’t have to worry about maintaining the pretences and walls that everyone has one some level. They’re just two people throwing paint, rolling in hay, and falling in love. Now that’s what I call romance.

Romance is more than just the funny easy parts though, it’s also emotional vulnerability – and there is no better moment of emotional vulnerability that the titular scene where Kat reads her poem to Patrick in front of the entire class. It would be easy for Patrick to scoff, to maintain his image and security by mocking her feelings. But he doesn’t. In that moment he sees her (metaphorically) laid bare and completely accepts her. Her vulnerability is embraced and then returned with his own. It kills me every time.

If I ask for nothing else within romance, I ask to be accepted in my vulnerability. It might lack the passions of Pride and Prejudice or the high-drama of The Notebook but 10 Things portrays this so well. Forget angsty speeches in the rain or sexually charged touches. People letting themselves be vulnerable and not thinking of how they’ll look doing dumb stuff with the other person is where it’s at in romance. Bury me in roses and call me Cupid, because that melts me into a little puddle of goo. If, like me, you hate cheesy cliches but you want to watch an appropriately valentine-y movie, then crack open some hay bales and don your best 90’s clothing because 10 Things I Hate About You is calling your name.


 

Words by Taeghan Buggy