Leaving Circa on Wednesday after the opening night of Olive Copperbottom, one of the many things I was feeling was deep regret that it was the very first of Penny Ashton’s shows that I’d seen, and I’d missed so many others.  Ashton is a bright light.  Her energy, her wit, and her joy were incandescent throughout an hour and a half of non-stop action.  She clearly loves what she does, and the audience loves her.  We clapped and laughed helplessly from start to finish, genuinely entranced as she wove her story.

Dickens was a clever man with a wicked sense of humour, and this homage to him was right on the money.  The characters Ashton has created could live in any of Dickens’ tales, and the narrative was true to his formula of good v evil, comedy of errors, and class division, without ever being formulaic.  An orphan with an unknown father navigates poverty, betrayal, and a promising career on the stage, while remaining the ingenue sweetheart that we root for (even while we know she has to win through in the end – it’s a fairytale after all!).  It’s fast and smart and cleverly referential without being derivative (HOW?)

Ashton switched between characters smoothly and rapidly, with clear differences between voice and physicality, and we immediately knew who was doing what despite her speed of delivery.  She broke the fourth wall with sly asides, or when there was a rare short circuit on her lines or with the sound cues, bringing us along with the fun rather than letting it turn embarrassing.  She flirted and teased and just enjoyed the relationship developing between us, her, and her characters, and by God, we enjoyed it too.

The set and tech elements were pretty simple, a bare stage with a chest, a table, and a chair, and that enabled the scene to change easily without any faffing with props.  The music was a fun element; Ashton and Robbie Ellis filked songs over classical favourites, which allowed us to focus on the lyrics against familiar melody.  Ashton’s voice, too, was strong and accurate, and the music felt like an extra easter egg for us.

It was Rollicking.  It was a Romp.  It was an unstoppable freight train from the get-go and I loved every moment of it.  I exhort everyone to go and see it.  You’ll laugh and cheer at this tremendous performance from an absolute star, and hopefully it will bring a little sunshine into these bleak times.

Olive Copperbottom continues for a wonderfully long season til December 4th at Circa 2.  And I may have to go see it again.