Rachel Parris is a musical comedian, and yet she begins her show, Best Laid Plans, by drawing some art into the mix. She sketches herself on a blackboard surrounded by a car, a large house and a partner: all the things that she always assumed would waft seamlessly into her life by the grand old age of thirty. The artwork, of questionable quality, is the anchor for the following set, as Parris explores her six-year-old dreams, the marriage of friends and the reality of sex, through the universal medium of music. I am not the first to sign up to a ‘break-up musical comedy show’, but this is not just laughter for the sake of it, this is profoundly good comedy.
I first heard of Parris when I randomly flicked to Live at the Apollo one evening. I never thought I would hear the song ‘Vincent’ by Don McLean applied to lyrics describing the dreaded Hen-Do party on a train, but there you go! This song features in Best Laid Plans and it is brilliant. Parris is clearly a very talented writer and singer, as well as comedian. One of her friends even asked her to write a song for their 30th birthday party, so Parris came up with a classic: “Once you’re thirty you’re basically dead”. This is the first song in the set and the line “your womb is a bomb, you dress like a plate” completely reassured me that the whole musical comedy set-up was not going to be as painful as I might have feared.
With any stand-up there is always an element of the comedian laying their life and personal experiences on the line, to be trampled on and jeered at. This is what makes stand-up so challenging. You give fragments of yourself with each performance and the audience gets to decide whether to hand them back or not. I will always have tremendous respect for anyone who can go on stage as themselves, not a character, just them. Parris strikes a perfect balance in this area. She invites us in, we meet her friends and her ex-boyfriend, and we confront her long-term break-up, her struggle with depression and her subsequent email exchange with the Samaritans (yes, you can email them). She gives us an exclusive personal insight into her world, but not too much. She uses this material to make her comedy real. The climax of the show is marked by a song about how love was not enough for her last relationship to function. This is a poignant moment which wasn’t even pretending to be humorous. However, this point somehow didn’t jar the comedy – it made the laughter appear more genuine because it came from a real place.
There is an appropriate rounding up of the fun at the conclusion of the set. This ending feels a little contrived, concluding that her childhood dreams were out of date and not a stick to measure life by, but it adds a feel-good factor in what, after all, is a comedy. There is nothing wrong with sending the audience out a little happier than when they walked in. I left with her final lyric about life in my head: “it’s mine and it’s stupid and it’s good”.
There is no waiting around for punchlines with Parris – the whole spiel is hilarious. There is a constant ripple of laughter in the intimate room. I wish I could have seen this in person, but this online hour is certainly enough to brighten your isolation spirits.