You Might As Well Live – you might as well go

Tuesday 31 October 2006

The West End Whingers are getting about these days. In an attempt to break from the perpetual disappointment of the west end theatre, WEW decided to sample the fringe. (Fringe Whingers?).

So it was that life-long Dorothy Parker fan Andrew dragged Phil up (it’s not the first time) to Hampstead’s New End Theatre to see You Might As Well Live (“the untold life of Dorothy Parker”).

When paying west end prices, WEW love to moan about length as most shows are either too long or too short. YMAWL came in at 65 minutes for £12. We like short -it leaves plenty of time to chew the show over with a bottle of grape. So Andrew was delighted when he found out that 40 years of his heroine’s life were going to be rattled out in barely over an hour. To save you doing the maths that’s about 18 months per minute. Not much space for longeurs.

Even so Phil found himself glancing at his watch from time to time and checking the number of scenes (7) in the programme (free- well done New End Theatre!) then trying to remember how many we’d sat through. The man in the seat next to him appeared to be doing the same, but then he did also seem to be enjoying it enormously.

By”The Untold Life of Dorothy Parker” first time playwright Christian Spurrier seems to mean DP minus wit plus politics and general worthiness, and towards the end DP does bemoan that she’ll be remembered for things which were meant as throw away jokes, so we supposed this was the point. But it’s a bit of a poisoned chalice, really, as an audience drawn to a biography of Dorothy Parker is presumably hoping for at least a taste of her mordant wit and they’re doomed to disappointment.

Even the title of the play was never explained. At the risk of engaging the wrath of Dorothy Parker’s estate (historical footnote: which isThe National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, as noted in the play. Parker bequeathed her estate to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr who died 10 months after her. Despite protests from executor Lillian Hellman, Parker’s estate then passed on to the NAACP as Parker had requested in the event of King’s death) it’s the last line of her poem Résumé:

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

Anyhow, YMAWL suffers from the usual problem of one-actor shows. Pandora Colin’s Parker finds herself having conversations with the dog (stuffed), a corpse, shouting at unseen characters, responding to the occasional offstage voice (taped) and too frequently chatting on the phone.

Despite these rather strained attempts to introduce dialogue into a one-woman show, WEW were pretty impressed with Colin’s performance, particularly her ageing process and both Andrew and Phil noted her ability to tie and untie her hospital robe behind her neck with fine dexterity. WEW were excited to see from their free programme that Pandora had appeared in both The Bill and Casualty.

Phil even went as far to find himself “completely forgetting he was in the theatre” when DP described the build up to a double execution that Parker had fought to prevent. Don’t worry he’s not gone soft, it was a brief moment, but it rarely happens theses days.

Indeed, WEW’s only regret is that this play wasn’t nearly bad enough to justify ripping off (we mean paying homage to) some classic DP put-downs. Andrew had planned to end the review with either “She delivered a striking performance that ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B” or”This wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.” but it was not to be.

It’s only on till next Sunday. If you’re a Dorothy Parker fan you might as well go.

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