“What The Frock! has become the UK's most significant nurturer of female talent, and has meant Bristol now gives female comedians a bigger slice of the action” – The Naked Guide To Bristol, 2015
SARAH GRAHAM INTERVIEWS RACHEL
Rachel Parris occupies a unique position in the comedy world: straddling the sparsely populated border between musical comedy and Jane Austen improvisation.
An actor, comedian, musician and improviser, Rachel has an intriguingly diverse repertoire with a CV that includes co-presenting Sky Atlantic’s Game of Thrones fan show Thronecast, as well as an appearance on Channel 4’s The IT Crowd, and a stint in the critically acclaimed “epic disaster parody play” Death Ship 666.
It’s no surprise then that her comedy inspirations are just as diverse: “My influences vary from multi-talented comedians like Victoria Wood to Bill Finn – an American musical theatre writer who does these heartbreakingly funny and moving songs, all part of a narrative, but always flawless comic writing.”
I’ve caught Rachel fresh from a month in Edinburgh, where she’s been treating Fringe-goers to her latest solo stand-up show Live In Vegas, but her comedy beginnings are rooted in the world of improvisation. “I joined the Oxford Imps, a short-form group, and then a long-form London improv show called Scenes From Communal Living, with a young Rob Broderick, Carly Smallman, Robin & Partridge and Gemma Whelan, among others.”
Out of this love of improvisation came the award-winning Austentatious, a Jane Austen themed improvised comedy show co-founded by Rachel. “We had all been doing a variety of different kinds of improv for quite a few years,” Rachel explains. “We knew we wanted to do something long form that was historical, would be fun to do and get an audience. Austen seemed perfect: we all really liked her work and she suits improv really well – lots of dialogue and very witty.”
And it’s not just for fans of Mr Darcy’s creator. “You don’t have to even really know about Jane Austen to enjoy the show,” Rachel says. “We throw a few Easter eggs in for those who are big fans, but [it’s] more comedy than anything else – as Paul Fleckney said in a review, it’s ‘more Blackadder than BBC4’.”
Her experiences of improv gave Rachel “the idea that [she] could be funny on stage, and the balls to do [her] first comedy gig.” Her solo work, though, she says is “completely different”, so What The Frock! fans shouldn’t come expecting a comedy rendition of Mansfield Park. “My solo stuff is more connected to the modern world – and my life, inevitably,” with previous themes including television, advertising, friends getting married, children, pop stars, Disney and turning 30.
“I usually do stand-up with comedy songs in between, although this year I’ve started doing character comedy. So I suppose at the moment it’s musical-character-comedy… niche!” Rachel explains.
Her debut solo show, The Commission, sold out at 2013’s Edinburgh Fringe and received a host of four and five star reviews. Live In Vegas has proved another hit at this year’s Fringe and is all set for a mini tour in the Autumn. In it, as the title suggests, Rachel explores the world of Las Vegas: “Part of the show is taking the mick out of the commercialism, the corruption and the fake smiles, that side of the industry,” she says. “But I convey it through the power of song!”