Circa Two is dimly lit with a few simple set pieces placed across the stage. A barrel, a chest, and a chair, which are utilised in various ways throughout the performance – I’m a sucker for functional and transformative set. The music (arranged by Robbie Ellis) ushers us into the dreary streets of Victorian London, and the recording at the beginning by one of the many ‘crusty Victorians’ – Mrs Sourtart – tells me exactly what we’re in for. We’re transported back to the dingy recesses of Dickens’ (and Ashton’s) world through simple set, tight sound design, and a killer script that has something for everyone.
Our titular character, Olive Copperbottom, is an orphaned heroine who is trying to take control of her life but is constantly being betrayed, swindled, and pined over by a litany of larger than life Victorians. Oh, did I mention it’s a one woman show? Ashton transitions between each character seamlessly, and I was constantly forgetting that there was only one person onstage the whole time. The fight scenes were especially fun to watch, but rather than me spoiling it, I think you’d better go see for yourself.
Solo shows are incredibly difficult to write and even more so perform, especially when you’re working with 15 characters (that’s right, 15) but Ashton is a master of her craft. Ashton leans into the absurdity of each of these characters with hilariously over the top cockney accents and garish physicality that leaves us in stitches. Some highlights were the ever so passionate Edward Goodsort, Minnie Scabbybits and that very sexy dance of hers, and of course, our villain Millicent Moneybags (what a name, right?). Ashton doesn’t need to change much for each character, but through her physicality and malleable voice, she jumps between characters to carry the narrative along with ease.
The musical elements of the performance are an excellent touch. A series of fun numbers incorporating several of the characters in very impressive (solo) duets are littered throughout the show. This is another area where Ashton shines, her voice is powerful and her energy infectious as she dances and twirls about the stage – I don’t think I’m the only one wanting to join her in a boogie.
Despite a missed cue here and there (props to the technician who stepped in at the last minute) and a comically long series of sirens driving past along Cable Street, Ashton is quick to accept the surprises and run with them. I worried before going into it that the jokes would go over my head, I'm yet to acquaint myself with Dickens, but I’m definitely more inspired to do so now. A big part of why this show was written was to highlight the comedy in his writing, the silliness of these stories that – when you think about poor people in Victorian London – can be quite bleak. Ashton doesn’t let us forget the injustice that these characters are facing, especially the women, her sharp quips about wealth inequality consistently remind us that these stories aren’t so far from our own in some ways.
Olive Copperbottom is a raunchy, ridiculous romp that really does have something for everyone. I promise you don’t need to be a Dickens fan to enjoy this show, and you will definitely walk away with a stupid grin on your face. Come along for the killer story, and stay for Ashton’s unwavering charm.
Olive Copperbottom: A Dickensian Tale of Love, Gin, and the Pox is on at Circa Two until the 4th of December.