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Buskers Fest Review: Olive Copperbottom

Former Christchurchian Penny Ashton’s Charles Dickens tribute Olive Copperbottom is a feat of theatrical gymnastics. A comedic tale of orphans, nasty matrons, gruelling poverty, secret identities, down-on-their-luck entrepreneurs and kindhearted generosity, it has the vast cast of characters that you would expect from such a Victorian epic – and they’re all played by Ashton herself, who moves through characters (and accents!) with mindboggling precision. As she launches into the tale of soon-to-be-orphaned heroine Olive Copperbottom, it’s initially exhausting – even just as an audience member – but once you get your head around what she’s doing, you’re in the rhythm and it’s amazing to behold.

Shrewd on-stage transitions between characters such as Olive herself, grasping orphanage runner Mrs Sourtart, earnest romantic lead Edward Goodsort, showbiz impresario Phineas Fivestars, and lady of negotiable affection Fanny Purchase (plus a host of others) – as well as Ashton's distinct and enjoyable characterisations – mean there's never any confusion as to who you’re listening to, even in the midst of multi-character scenes and even (yes!) fight sequences. There’s witty musical numbers to tie it all together (you haven’t really lived until you’ve seen the classic “separated lovers’ duet” performed by two people in the same body) and the puns, references, theatrical in-jokes, audience interaction and slyly on-the-money social commentary (which reminds us that sadly, some things haven’t really changed since Dickens’ day) keep flying out as the story unfolds at a furious pace.

Ashton is a consummate performer and as the show builds to a satisfying and dazzling showdown, she somehow manages the sheer mental dexterity required for all this while staying all the while completely “in the room”, interacting with the audience, mugging for laughs, and chipping the lighting box. The first-night audience goes crazy following the happy ending in sheer appreciation of what a massively entertaining feat it’s been; a Dickensian delight.

Olive Copperbottom: A Dickensian Tale of Love, Gin and the Pox
Buskers Boutique Theatre at Christ’s College
6:30pm nightly until Sat 27 January

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