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Rachel Parris: Best Laid Plans, Edinburgh Preview

| Comedy, Festivals, Music | 27/07/2016

Rachel Parris 086

In the first of our Edinburgh Fringe previews, Ian Cater meets comedian, actress and musician Rachel Parris to chat about her new show, Best Laid Plans, which she is performing daily at The Pleasance Dome.

“Sorry, I’m so distracted by this stupid fringe,” Rachel Parris apologises with a soft East Midlands lilt.  She’s not talking about the annual Edinburgh cultural orgy – where she appears next week in her third solo show – but the blonde strands that keep dropping into her eye line.  “I got this haircut six months ago after a breakup and now I’m aggressively trying to grow it out.”

That breakup forms part of her new show, Best Laid Plans, reflecting the fact she expected by now to have settled down and grown up, whatever that means.

Rachel Parris 277“Like lots of people in their early thirties, I’m living in a similar way to when I was 20,” she says.  “That can seem scary: I should be a proper adult.  But, as I try to say in the show, it’s ok really.

“I also wanted to look at the difficult time I went through after the breakup because there’s a lot of humour in that.  I contacted The Samaritans, but I couldn’t face speaking to them so I sent an email instead.

“It felt like the end of the world, but I try to focus on the lighter side of the things you do and the clichéd way you behave: like getting a new haircut, getting into shape and joining the gym.”

Although Best Laid Plans leans more towards stand-up than her previous shows, music stays front and centre.  Judging from Parris’ excellent recent appearance at the Kentish Town Forum opening for Nick Helm, the highlights are likely to include the hilarious Gym Song (which draws on Frozen’s Let It Go for pace and key changes, and has an excellent new music video) and Hen-do on a Train, not – she emphasises – Hindu on a Train.

Focusing on the music should not understate Parris’ disarming warmth and easy story telling.  It just recognises what sets her apart: the voice and stage presence of a West End star, rather than the folksy style of other musical comedians.  It stems from formative years in Leicestershire behind a piano from the age of six, and studying music at university.  Back then, her dream was to appear in musicals.  “It still sort of is, although now I think I’d like to write one and be in it.  I do really value my music, because that’s where I came from.  It’s where I’m most comfortable.”

Leaving Las Vegas

Parris is also on safer ground performing as herself, after a tricky August 2015 with her second solo show, Live in Vegas, where she appeared as several fictional characters from the world of cabaret.  

Rachel Parris 266“It was fine,” she reflects, a little uncertainly.  “But the audience didn’t really get what the show was about and weren’t really going with it.  So it was hard and I probably shot myself in the foot a bit.  And it was shitting it down every day.”

She learned a lot about herself that month, finding the inner strength to overcome the flight reflex between costume changes.  And it helped her realise what she does best.  “The year before was glorious, so it’s right to go back to that: being on stage as just me and being truthful.  At the very least, it’s relatable.  Hopefully hilarious, minimum: relatable.”

Despite a natural inclination to play down expectations, Parris approaches the Fringe on the back of a very successful year in which she has continued to demonstrate her impressive versatility.

Following a stint on Sky Atlantic’s Thronecast, she presented her own Game of Thrones podcast, Throneroom, an entertaining and informed accompaniment to the show’s sixth season.  Her acting CV has continued to grow with recent appearances on BBC3’s Murder In Successville.  Then, showing that Parris has more fingers in pies than Walder Frey’s sons [GoT Season 6 spoiler], there’s the continued success of her acting troupe Austentatious which performs improvised comedy plays in the style of Jane Austen.

Parris first dabbled with improvised drama at university and credits it for her move into comedy: “It gave me the idea I could be funny on stage, although I still felt I needed safety in numbers.

“Now I do both, I’m not sure whether improv helps my comedy.  But comedy really helps the improv in terms of waiting for the laugh.  That’s so important when there’s a group of you acting, because there’s a risk you’ll all panic and do some crazy shit to make the audience laugh.  But taking your time and staying calm is pretty vital for both.”

FullSizeRenderBeyond the Fringe

With all these strings to her bow, I ask what her best laid plans are now.  “I really don’t know,” she shrugs. “I’ve got lots of things I’d like to do: more acting, get a sit-com commissioned.  Overall I prefer creating and performing to presenting, but of course I’d be delighted to do that sort of work again.  Come on, Rachel … think: commissions!”

A very welcome and down to earth addition to the comedy scene, you sense that Parris is just one well-timed sit-com role away from hitting the big time, as the likes of Isy Suttie have shown in the past.  But that can wait for now.  A hectic month awaits with two shows a day for most of August, but Parris is determined to make time for seeing other acts – including Rob Carter, Kate Lucas and Anna Morris – and enjoying the collegiate atmosphere the Fringe always engenders.

And, of course, to continue taking her time and staying calm.  “I’ve really learnt not to make any massive life decisions during or immediately after Edinburgh – thoughts about your career or your relationship should wait until October.  You can easily convince yourself you’re in love with someone, or you should become a juggler or have a child to partake in this madness.  But you’ve got to remind yourself it’s not real life.  As fun as it is!”

Rachel Parris is performing ‘Best Laid Plans’ at 18.50 between 3rd-28th August at The Pleasance Dome.  She also stars in ‘Austentatious’ at Udderbelly, George Square at 13.30 between 5th-21st August, and at 11.45 on 10th August.  Tickets for both shows are available via Rachel’s website.

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