The best of times

Penny Ashton will perform the musical Olive Copperbottom in Waikaia and Invercargill this month. Photo: Supplied

DICKENSIAN drama and the hilarity of award-winning comedienne Penny Ashton collide in the new musical Olive Copperbottom

The one-woman show, which won the Press Critic’s Iron Chicken award for best indoor show at the Christchurch International Buskers’ Festival this year and best overall show at the Victoria Fringe in Canada 2017, is being presented by Venture Southland in Waikaia and Gillies Creative in Invercargill, in association with Arts On Tour, and is a Southland Arts Festival warm up event.

Ashton was last in Invercargill to perform in 2014 when she brought her Jane Austen-inspired Promise and Promiscuity to the stage.

However, this time she’s taking on the work of 19th century English writer Charles Dickens, whose legacy includes Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations

“So there’s a lot more child murder and things. It’s definitely got a darker flavour, but it’s still funny,” Ashton said.

She plays 15 characters in this production and performs seven songs throughout the musical.

Featuring a colourful cast of characters including prostitutes, the rich and the poor, the eponymous orphan Olive was the heroine of the tale, Ashton said.

Part of Olive’s journey was also about finding out who her father was.

“There’s twists and turns and coincidences, as there so often is with Dickens as well.

“You don’t have to know Dickens to enjoy it. It’s still a rollicking good tale.”

However, if you did know your Dickens there would be added elements like character tropes, quotes and book names woven into the narrative.

Although Dickens’ and Austen’s novels were written in the 1800s, Ashton said they were still relevant today.

“I think they’re still quite relevant in different ways. Austen was very relevant talking about the search for love and security and all that sort of stuff. And with Dickens there’s a lot about inequality, birth control, orphans and bastards, and people mistreating children because they don’t have the proper parentage.”

Ashton said Dickens worked at a boot blacking factory when he was quite young and his father spent time in a debtors’ prison.

“A lot of his work touches on child labour and inequality and misuse of children because he witnessed it and experienced it.”

Ashton said there was quite a lot of current political content sprinkled throughout the jokes.

“He was quite a social activist and you could certainly say that some people are slipping back into a Dickensian time – here and globally – so there’s stuff to take from it that way as well.”

Olive Copperbottom, Friday, April 13, 7.30pm, Switzers Lodge, 223 Blaydon St, Waikaia. Saturday, April 14, 7.30pm, Repertory House, Invercargill. Book at Eventfinda.

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