A show becoming of Jane Austen
Two centuries since it was first published and after five years of working alongside corsets and bonnets, comedienne Penny Ashton has found herself with more of a connection to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice than just a love of "poncing about with a British accent".
The Sandringham-based actress discovered her fifth great-uncle was Thomas Langlois Lefroy - the man widely believed to be the writer's lover and inspiration for Pride and Prejudice's dashing Mr Darcy.
Mr Lefroy met Ms Austen while visiting his uncle and aunt in Hampshire. They were said to have been very much taken with each other but were separated after Mr Lefroy's parents whisked the young law student away.
The pair would never meet again and Ms Austen died unmarried in 1817, four years after Pride and Prejudice was published.
Ms Ashton was alerted to the connection last week after her uncle stumbled across the name while compiling the family tree.
"It's just amazing to think I could be related to Mr Darcy after doing Jane Austen for five years," she says.
The 200th anniversary of the romantic classic was celebrated at the end of last month.
Fresh from the success of the sellout show Austen Found: The Undiscovered Musicals of Jane Austen, Ms Ashton has decided to do what no Regency woman should and go out alone and completely unchaperoned.
She will be taking to the TAPAC stage in her latest musical theatre offering Promise and Promiscuity, written by herself and Ms Austen, of course. Classic lines from Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility run alongside the comedienne's own sharp wit in the one-woman show which follows Miss Elspeth Slowtree as she battles the challenges facing women of the period.
Collaborating with one of English literature's best-loved authors has its drawbacks, Ms Ashton says.
"I was performing it for my boyfriend and he went ‘oh that's a good line' and I had to go ‘yeah that's Jane Austen's line'.
"I like to think I've got good ones too but she's very good at dialogue."
The musical is a playful take on the classic novels and somewhat of a departure from Ms Ashton's previous work.
"It's really clean for me. People have been astonished when they've asked if there's lots of swearing and I've said there's none. Jane Austen doesn't swear. I'd be a useless Regency lady."
Ms Ashton has immersed herself in the Regency world over the past five years to make sure not to disappoint the many ardent fans of the 18th century author.
"I do take the piss but in a very affectionate way - I would never want to alienate her fans. People really love Jane Austen and are hungry to be in that world some more."
Promise and Promiscuity plays from February 27 to March 3 at TAPAC, Motions Rd, Western Springs.
Go to tapac.org.nz or phone 845 0295 for tickets.