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A CurtainUp Review
The play, which bears the strongest resemblance to Dickens's Great Expectations, tells the story of Penny Penniworth, a young lady who becomes the factotum of the wealthy, embittered recluse Miss Havasnort (Ellen Reilly) after Penny's childhood love is driven out of town due to an unfortunate event with a wealthy businessman. Penny goes through various trials, adventures and transformations before being reunited with her true love.
Along the way Weikel occasionally abandons Great Expectations in favor of many other works by Dickens: A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, and if one listens carefully, one will certainly detect traces of D.H. Lawrence, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Jane Austen and perhaps even a bit of Rudyard Kipling. There's also a good deal of Mel Brooks, Monty Python, the Marx Brothers and Sid Caesar in this madcap adventure.
Penny Penniworth is certainly clever, but at times it seemed so derivative this reviewer kept asking herself, "where have I seen this before?"
Like most spoofs, this one is extravagant, naughty and physical. And like most such spoofs and, despite the many twists of its plot and some inspired acting, it goes on too long. The other problem is its lack of focus. At some moments the play seems to be a parody of Victorian times, but at others, it seems to be referencing Gothic romance. On the other hand, the gender twisting at the end is from a purely modern mindset.
Of course, many people will be so caught up in the one-liners, snide asides, unnatural poses and unanticipated turns of events to notice or care. In fact, Penny Penniworth is probably made for serious students of literature who can take great pride in not missing any of the double meanings and clever allusions.
Finley deserves credit for his adroit staging, and the ensemble cast deserves a hardy round of applause for its enthusiasm, energy and the admirable way the actors work together. Reilly was particularly convincing as Miss Havasnort. Still, despite the many excellent elementsts, Penny Penniworth is a new example of some very old stuff.