Olive Copperbottom: A New Musical by Charles Dickens and Penny Ashton, produced by Penash Productions, brings an abundance of Victorian delights to the Toronto Fringe Festival. Inspired by Charles Dickens and bolstered by fun musical numbers and a tremendous amount of energy from one-woman performer Penny Ashton, this was a show I enjoyed down to the very last drop — of gin, obviously.
Like any good Dickens novel, Olive Copperbottom is filled with colourful characters, unexpected family fortunes, and (cheerfully self-aware) literary ex machinas. It is irresistibly fun to watch Ashton revel in the sordid settings and conniving characters of Victorian England.
Ashton is truly a remarkable performer; she plays more than fifteen characters, always with great relish and conviction. My favourite moment of the show was the fistfight between heroine Olive Copperbottom and scheming Mrs. Sourtart, the head of the orphanage. It was simply hilarious to see both sides of a one-woman brawl.
It was also very impressive to hear Ashton sing in various characters’ accents. She has a great voice and the ukulele song was particularly lovely. However, I wish the instrumental music hadn’t been so loud; I consistently had trouble hearing the song lyrics, especially during the lovers’ duet. (No doubt this is only an opening-night technical hiccup.)
The only part of Olive Copperbottom I didn’t especially enjoy was the segment of audience participation when Fanny, a prostitute character, comes out into the audience. Her interaction with a certain male audience member felt a little too hands-on, so to speak, and I’m not sure what this section of audience participation added to the story.
Overall, however, Olive Copperbottom is a wonderful show. Even the dialogue of this play is full of little treats — pointed comments on modern life (from Ticketmaster to Trump), references to Dickens novels, and bawdy jokes. Ashton’s masterful performance and the sheer complexity of this show make for terrific entertainment. If Ashton were competing in “Manchester is Resplendent in Talent,” a “reality theatre” show in the world of Olive Copperbottom, I daresay she would win.
- Olive Copperbottom: A New Musical plays at the Al Green Theatre. (750 Spadina Ave.)
- Tickets are $12. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Scadding Court, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Content Warning: Audience Participation.
- This venue is barrier-free. Note that only certain building entrances are wheelchair-accessible. Accessible seating is in front of the front row, and may have poor sightlines for certain productions.
- Thursday July 6th, 08:15 pm
- Saturday July 8th, 10:30 pm
- Monday July 10th, 02:45 pm
- Tuesday July 11th, 04:30 pm
- Thursday July 13th, 05:15 pm
- Friday July 14th, 08:00 pm
- Saturday July 15th, 01:45 pm
Photo by Philip Merry, Axolotl Photography