Review: Rachel Parris — All Change

Middlesbrough Town Hall: 8 April 2022

A lot has happened to Rachel Parris in the last three years, and the pandemic, as we discover later, appears to have been the least of it. We’re in the Crypt tonight, and the audience is, on the whole more, probably female than male, even though this is also very definitely couples night out as you glance around the room¹.

For those of you mostly familiar with Rachel from the Mash Report, the show may come as a bit of a surprise. Spoiler alert: Rachel sings, and plays the piano², and other things, but we’ll come to that presently. She starts as she means to go on though, at the piano, before making introductions and letting us know that this is in fact her first time in Middlesbrough, together with an apology for taking so long to get here³. Then she talks about how, originally, she started writing this show called All Change because of all the upheaval and change going on around us post-referendum. She finished writing that show in February 2020. Talk about timing, eh? But the pandemic meant lots of change, and new, weird things in our lives, and, as she’ll come to, hers. But for most of us it included things like the inexplicable popularity of the sea shanty⁴, at which point she whips out a melodica and sings one for us.

But the pandemic wasn’t just fun with songs and seamen (that’s for later); she can’t help but talk about some of the others factors surrounding life with COVID, like the Government. Let’s just say she’s not much of a fan. The clues were subtle and understated form the outset, like finishing that opening piano number with the line “Boris Johnson is a cunt.”⁵. In fact, that turns out to be something of a jump-off point. If she knows he’s a cunt, and so do we, and so even do Tory voting people she knows, what do his own party think of him, including the minions he has put in place, whose only quality seems to be their loyalty to him? And what do those minions think of each other? Do they all think Chris Grayling is some kind of shit prefect to try to emulate, or what? And all of this causes problems for comedians, because there’s a big difference in laughing at the vain charisma vacuum Priti Patel, with her smirking face, making herself look ridiculous by mis-using the words counter-terrorism⁶ in a interview 11 times and calling it a “slip of the tongue”, and being sickened by the frankly evil Patel who brought legislation to the Commons asking for authorities to stand and watch people drown in the English Channel. And what does she follow this with? A song about vaccinations that sounds for all the world like something from Tapestry-era Carole King.

But there were other changes. For one thing, she got married, and that caused its own problems, seeing as her husband is … posh⁷. Now, of course, we are in Middlesbrough here, so posh could even include anyone who drinks with a cocked little finger as they hold the glass when they’re necking a pint, but her husband is much posher than she is. Yes, she says, she did go to a private school, and Oxford. But at school she was the scholarship kid, from a working class family in Loughborough. She didn’t do all the posh kid things, like going skiing (and she still can’t do it), she has no opinions about wine, other than “this is nice, or that will do”, and doesn’t have the insouciant swagger of the public schoolboy, but boy is her confidence about her Imposter Syndrome at the top of its game.

Lots of the rest of the show is about that relationship starting, and the changes that went with it. She says that one piece of advice she was given was that “relationships are compromise”, though anyone who is either married, or has been, will recognise how she sketches out what definitions both partners have in mind there⁸. There were also more pragmatic changes, like moving into a home with her step kids, and leaning into the role of evil stepmum, This needed a change of mindset, from living a millennial type of house-share life, to a place with mortgages, and actual responsibilities. It also means, according to another song⁹, bringing some of your old life with you, including the eight sets of kitchen knives you won in a Bridlington meat raffle.

Later, she starts to talk a little more about social media, and how her stepkids have their makeup game so much more sorted than she did at their age because of stuff like YouTube. But this is used merely and an entry point into the whole business of how social media changed her life, starting with how the online adverts she saw changed the day after she got married, but her husband’s changed not at all, followed by the backhanded compliment of being asked to help “normalise sex toys” by Lovehoney. But all of this was leading to a bigger change, and that started with The Mash Report, and the day she first went viral. Trigger warning, kids: getting famous can be bad as well as good. So there was praise, but there were trolls too, which was stressful. Then there was the career upswing, and getting engaged, then getting married, then getting pregnant and giving birth, and then, a breakdown. Now, she admits that it is very modish for “celebs” to talk about their mental health at the moment, but three-day panic attacks honestly aren’t fun. As she said, there was a lot of big change in a very short time, and it swamped her for a bit. Therapy, the support of family, and beta blockers can help though. At least, they did for her. Mindfulness apps maybe don’t help so much; seeing the “Do one thing everyday that scares you” lyric in Sunscreen that she saw rehashed in one of those apps made her think that is probably really, really terrible advice for someone suffering from anxiety. All of this is bookended with a really quite moving (and sometimes funny) song written in the light of all of this hapening about how it’s possible to be “so fucking scared” and “so fucking happy” all at the same time, and not knowing how to cope with it all. If all of this makes you think of this as some kind of mawkish confessional, don’t worry: it was honest, but refreshingly bullshit free.

But all things must end, like pandemics, and even this show. Rachel goes back to her love of music, and musical theatre¹⁰, and informs us she’s going to leave us with one of those uplifting and inspirational songs that all those shows have. Her template for this is The Greatest Showman, and she delivers, leaving no cliche unturned to finish the evening’s fun in the nicest piss-taking way possible.

¹ This gets a call out in the opening song, especially talking about finding babysitters.

² But not all that much of a surprise, really, when you consider she has a first degree in Music as well as a Masters in Drama.

³ This was the third time of asking. The show was first supposed to happen on 8 November 2020

⁴ And the surprise for anyone over 25 that the singles chart was still even there, when people were talking about it getting to number 1.

⁵ No arguments from the audience. Of course he is.

⁶ You’d hope the actual Home Secretary would know the difference. Sadly it seems not.

⁷ This is all relative of course, but Rachel is talking proper, proper posh here, because she’s married to the very funny Marcus Brigstocke, who I’ve seen perform several times. And he really is. Extremely.

⁸ As she says: “compromises like saying to HMRC, ‘Ok, we’ll compromise: I’ll pay half my tax’ - though this only really works if you are cosplaying as Rishi Sunak’s wife”. But mostly the position is the age-old female one: “Yes, that’s nice. I’m right”. Oddly enough, it was the same technique used by Brian Clough in football management.

⁹ The “Dowry” Song.

¹⁰ Given footnote 2, again, hardly a shock.

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