Promise and Promiscuity: Something to go to in Auckland

Penny Ashton presents…
Promise and Promiscuity: A New Musical by Jane Austen
Written by Penny Ashton and Jane Austen
Starring Penny Ashton
Workshops directed by Ben Crowder, Original Music Written and Arranged by Robbie Ellis
Featuring Beethoven, Strauss, Delibes and Greensleeves


It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a theatre script…must be in want of an audience. Charmingly accomplished Penny Ashton (Austen Found, Hot Pink Bits, Good Morning, Poetry Idol) mashes up the Regency, bonnets and big balls…with alacrity! 

Fresh from the sell-out success of Austen Found: The Undiscovered Musicals of Jane Austen, Ashton has decided to do what no Regency woman should… go out alone AND completely unchaperoned, quite frankly it’s scandalous.

Follow the fortunes of Miss Elspeth Slowtree as she battles literary snobbery, her mother’s nerves and Cousin Horatio, all armed with a superior wit, blushing countenance and generally being quite bright… you know… for a girl. Balls will be attended, crosses will be stitched and manners will be minded, all with not one ankle in sight. 

As Elizabeth Bennett herself says “Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can.” 

And so should you.

Jane Austen would turn in her grave… with delight.” Rip it Up Adelaide, Austen Found
“…an engaging entertainment full of fun and frivolity.” NZ Herald, Austen Found 

“…a rollercoaster barrage of thrilling words which ooze brilliant talent and creativity.” Taranaki Daily News, Hot Pink with Penny Ashton
“…vivacious…highly entertaining…sheer charm and energy…” The Scotsman, Hot Pink

Penny Ashton is New Zealand’s own global comedienne who has been making a splash on the world stage since 2002 and she has sold out shows from Edinburgh to Adelaide to Tokoroa. She has four Best NZ Female Comedienne nominations, three Adelaide Fringe People’s Choice nominations and won best performance by an International Poet at the London Farrago Awards. Penny has represented New Zealand in The World Cup of Theatresports in Germany and Australasia in a Performance Poetry Slam Tournament Tour of the UK. In 2010 she performed by invitation at The Glastonbury Festival and reported from the Miss Universe Pageant in Las Vegas.

Auckland Fringe runs from 15 February to 10 March 2013. For more Auckland Fringe information go to
Promise and Promiscuity: A New Musical by Jane Austen
TAPAC, Motions Rd, Western Springs,
Feb 27th – March 3rd, 7pm and 6pm on Sunday 3rd.
Bookings: 09 845 0295, Prices: $25/$20,
For more information contact:
Penny Ashton

Penny Ashton is especially excited to be presenting the show one month after the 200th anniversary of the publishing of Pride and Prejudice on January 28th, 1813.


Deb’s note: Penny Ashton happened by one of my posts on Jane Austen, and left a comment about this show she’s producing, and with her permission, I’ve turned the comment into this post.

On reading Adelaide

Adelaide, by Kerryn Goldsworthy

I’ve just finished reading Kerryn Goldsworthy’s book, Adelaide. I first started it early this year, but then put it down as paid work took control of my life. I have spent most of the year gulping down great wodges of fantasy and historical reading: all twelve Poldark books and the Harry Potter series and Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games books. Some of this was very satisfying, but eventually, it all started to feel like too much chocolate. So I picked up Adelaide again.

What a wonderful book. I read the first few chapters at speed, learning some of the history of Adelaide. But then I slowed down, enjoying Kerryn’s way with words, and the images she describes, and her sense of livingness and presence in Adelaide. I read the last three chapters very slowly indeed, just a few pages each night, because I didn’t want to finish the book. It is part history, part memoir, part reflection on living. Kerryn cleverly, and very sensitively, writes an account of being Adelaide, not just knowing its history, or its tourism high points, but what it is to be part of the city.

This passage especially spoke to me, as I find my life more full than ever in the provincial city where I live now.

…it’s hard to believe that when we were young, so many of us thought Adelaide had nothing to give us; that being left off some touring star’s itinerary, because the profits from a smaller population weren’t big enough to cancel out the nuisance of adding an extra leg to the tour, was enough to make us feel that our city wasn’t good enough for us either. I now think we were simply projecting, mistaking ‘Adelaide’ for what was in fact the sketchy thinness, so far, of our own young lives reflected back at us.

Yes. Just so.

Kerryn’s book has made Adelaide come alive again for me. I want to visit Adelaide again, to see again the friends I made while we were there, to feel the hot sun on my skin, wander through the glories of the Central Market, contemplate the statues on North Terrace, understand the city a little more.

Just today, word has come that we may be able to visit there for a week or two in January. I am so very pleased.

Why Margaret Mahy mattered to me

We are all mourning for Margaret Mahy, so very sad that our magnificent story teller has died. I recommend Jolisa’s and Craig’s tributes to her: “Glory! Glory! There’s the salt!” and OPEN HOUSE: Margaret Mahy, The Storyteller in The Meadow.

I loved her writing too, because it worked for me, as an adult reading picture books to my children, and as an avid reader of her fiction for young adults, because actually, it’s excellent fiction for not-so-young adults too. But something I’ve been reflecting on since the news of her death is the way that she wrote about good and effective parenting and partnering. I’m thinking of the mothers in The Lion in the Meadow and The Witch in the Cherry Tree, who both calmly carry on with their work, incorporating their small children’s imaginings into what they are doing, even entering into the imagining, and through it all providing security for the little ones, should their imagination become too frightening. It’s a beautiful model of how to work with and respond to children. This is yet another reason why I loved her writing so much: she helped me to learn how to be a better mother of young children.

Back in 2009, I wrote a post a day for New Zealand Book Week, each one about a children’s book I loved. Five of those posts are about books written by Margaret Mahy.

Yes, of course we have baked gingerbread witches using the recipe at the back of The Witch in the Cherry Tree. And thrown the burnt ones outside for any witches that might happen by.


In Oxford today, we sought out the Eagle and Child, where the Inklings met on Tuesday mornings, to discuss the books they were writing. We got there just before lunch, in time to get the best seats in the house.

Having an idea

(Description: Me, sitting where J.R.R.Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, Charles Williams et al sat.)

Having a beer

(Description: Me, in the same spot, having a beer.)

That beer was proper fourteen-twenty.

Remembering Jane Austen

On Sunday, I went on a pilgrimage to Winchester Cathedral.

Winchester Cathedral

Winchester Cathedral

(Description: large stone building in the distance, surrounded by low green hills)

We walked from a small village through English lanes and across fields to Winchester, where we passed by this house, where Jane Austen died, in 1817.

House where Jane Austen died

(Description: buttery-yellow house, small plaque on the front wall)

We didn’t go into the house, because it is a private residence. Mr Bee adjourned to the pub, and I went to the cathedral, to bow my head beside Jane Austen’s grave.

(Description: black gravestone set into the floor.)

Her grave is quite plain, and doesn’t mention her writing at all. It reads:

In Memory of
youngest daughter of the late
formerly Rector of Steventon in this County
she departed this Life on the 18th July, 1817
aged 41, after a long illness supported with
the patience and the hopes of a Christian.

The benevolence of her heart,
the sweetness of her temperment
the extraordinary endowments of her mind
obtained the regard of all who knew her and
the warmest love of her intimate connections

Their grief is in proportion to their affection
they know their loss to be irreparable
but in their deepest affliction they are consoled
by a firm though humble hope that her charity,
devotion, faith and purity have rendered
her soul acceptable in the sight of her

In the years after her death, she was memorialised, first with a brass plaque on the wall, and then in 1900, with a great stained glass window.

The window has six images: St Augustine, King David, St John, and the sons of Korah (2 Chronicles 20.19), traditionally regarded as Psalmists.

That’s right. This wonderful woman, who is one of the greatest writers in English, who helped to define and refine the structure of novels, who put questions of love and honour and women’s lives at the centre of her writing, is remembered entirely by images of men.

I sat alongside the gravestone, and thought of this wonderful writer, whose books I love so much. After a while I wandered around the rest of the magnificent cathedral, listening to the organ being played, and the choir practising before Evensong. I returned to the gravestone, and sat again, and then left before the service.

I am so glad to have been able to pay my respects to this great writer.

On reading Simon Sebag Montefiore’s biography of Stalin

If you can find a copy of Simon Sebag Montefiore’s biography of Stalin and his court, you should seize it, and devote yourself to reading it. It’s long, and dense, and horrifying, and so worth reading.

Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, by Simon Sebag Montefiore

I knew little of Stalin, and his enablers, other than the barest details of the horrific Terror that he unleashed on peasants and high politicians alike. Montefiore is sparing of details, but just a few here and there have stuck in my mind, of the terrible deaths meted out to those who had the temerity to be related to one of Stalin’s “Enemies”, let alone to the targets of his animosity and paranoia. Stalin and his court were monsters.

There is not even a “Yes, but…” in my mind. Many of the men who executed the Terror were in fear of losing their own lives: the extraordinary account of Stalin’s final days when he had a stroke, yet no one dared summon a doctor because to do so would be to suggest that the leader was failing, is testament to the fear in the court. Even so, they could have stepped aside, could have chosen not to murder innocents, or to murder at all.

And in amongst the horror, some items that are extraordinary to the point of comic absurdity. When Stalin and his court tried to investigate the high cost of the Russian invasion of Finland in the last days of 1938 and the beginning of 1939, the Finns lost around 48,000 solidiers, and the Russians over 125,000. It seemed that the Finns did not fight fair: they wore white clothes instead of standard army greens and greys and browns and blacks, so that they could not be seen in the snow; at least one Russian commander was surprised to find that Finland had forests; most astonishingly of all, the Finns had the temerity to attack when the Red Army was taking its afternoon nap.

These bizarre details counterpoint the ugly truth of the narrative, that guilty as Stalin was of revolting crimes, he did not act alone. Instead, his court aided every single one of his actions. Not just one evil man, but a whole cohort of evil men, and women.

Montefiore spoke to the descendants and friends of many of the key players, and with the opening up of the former Soviet Union, was able to access archives and records that had been hidden for decades. His book is extensively researched and documented. I am no student of the history of the Soviet Union, or of Stalin, so I can’t tell you whether or not his text is consistent with what others have written. But he brings alive the workings of Stalin’s court in extraordinary and horrifying detail.

I recommend this book.

Friday Feminist – Fiona Kidman (2)

Cross posted

One night she took issue with a middle-aged lawyer who had been defending a rape case.

‘Of course, my dears,’ he said, looking round conspiratorially at them all, in the candlelight. ‘You know she asked for it. Women nearly always do.’

‘That’s an absurd generalisation,’ said Harriet sharply.

There was a quickness in the air around the table. Max moved uneasily, for the lawyer was considered the best in town, and as sharp as a flick knife. If Harriet was about to take him on on his won ground, she was obviously due for her comeuppance. The women sat back to enjoy the sight of blood, though only half believing that Harriet would pursue such dangerous quarry. The lawyer, Nick Thomas, waited; it was clear he expected the battle to be brief.

‘Come, come my dear girl, a woman like this one sets up charms to attract men. If she succeeds, then she can hardly complain, can she?’

‘Presumably most women set out to charm men at some stage of their lives. Haven’t we all?’ said Harriet, looking round at the women. ‘Or did all the men here simply come and take you off a shelf marked available for marriage?’

The women smiled tentatively. ‘I suppose we must have,’ one of them said.

‘The point is, we had the right to choose who we slept with, didn’t we?’ She knew she had reached the point where Max would like her to stop.

‘Of course you did,’ said Nick, ‘But then you must realise that this – lady, if you like to call her that, had chosen to sleep with many men.’

‘I can’t see what difference that makes,’ said Harriet.

‘It makes a great deal of difference in the eyes of the law,’ said Nick.

‘Then the law is an even greater ass than some people already suppose,’ said Harriet. ‘She didn’t choose to sleep with this particular man, did she?’

‘We don’t know that. We don’t know whether in fact she’s simply paying him back for a tiff they had afterwards.’

‘But you said she was covered in bruises.’

‘Possibly self-inflicted.’

‘Do you honestly believe that?’

Nick shrugged. ‘My client denies it, and although he was foolish to become involved, I consider him of better character than the witness.’

‘Because he’s a man. Look, Nick, what d’you think about uninvited guests in your house? Would you let them stay?’

‘Of course not. I’d throw them out.’

‘Because you’ve got the right in law to choose who enters your home?’


‘But you do, do you not, invite many people into your home?’

Nick, still not taking her seriously, walked into the trap before he was aware she had made one. He smiled assent.

‘Then don’t you think that whether a woman has one man or many enter her body, the choice is even more important than who should enter your house? Or do you place respect for possessions ahead of respect for a woman’s body?’

Fiona Kidman, A Breed of Women, Harper and Rowe: Sydney, 1979, pp. 212 – 213

I first read this book as a very young woman, before I had even left school. Reading this scene was not so much a click moment, because I had learned my feminism from my mother, but a ‘gel’ moment, where some unstructured thoughts gelled together, and I understood something, in this case about the nature of consent.

Rereading the passage and the remainder of the scene and its aftermath in my forties, I can see a great deal more to reflect on. What I find disturbing is how little things have changed since Fiona Kidman wrote this book, which is a seminal book in feminism in Aotearoa New Zealand.