A Quick Guide to Ruining your Life
The Kings Arms, Salford
Advance publicity for Laura Harper’s A Quick Guide to Ruining your Life suggests a bawdy, even squalid tale of a ladette getting her comeuppance. Nothing could be further from the truth in this funny but rueful story of growing self-awareness.
Dawn (sole performer Diana Atkins) is a hard worker who accepts climbing the greasy corporate ladder involves socialising with people she would rather avoid. However, Dawn is shaken when the best friend, to whom she has always felt superior, turns out to be a talented writer and lands a book deal. To boost her confidence, Dawn makes a number of rash decisions and, having burnt her bridges and being unable to admit her mistakes, decides to hide away in her attic. Alone, Dawn finds herself coming to terms with uncomfortable truths about herself and her family.
Although A Quick Guide to Ruining your Life is a monologue, it is staged by director Paul Worrall as a full theatrical show. Atkins adopts a range of personalities and excellent comic use is made of sound effects. As Dawn rhetorically asks how she made such a mess of her life, the soundtrack bursts into ‘’Red, Red Wine’’. The gradual development of a soberer undertone does not feel contrived but rather grows out of hints made at earlier points in the play.
Harper’s script is very witty. Exiled in her attic, Dawn sets about reading Annie Frank’s dairy reasoning "When in Rome...". Unable to admit to her mistakes, Dawn sighs, "This isn’t just delusion—this is M&S delusion." Although Dawn’s situation is played for laughs, her increasing self-awareness is handled with sensitivity and a sense of regret at past errors.
Diana Atkins creates a character to whom it is easy to relate. Dressed in a decidedly unflattering onesie, Atkins is a figure both comic and a little sad—a high-flyer in very reduced circumstances. Yet Atkins does not allow Dawn to dodge responsibility for her actions; even at the early stages of the play, she ruefully acknowledges her own failings. Dawn is self-deprecating and sensitive enough to be upset when she faces up to the pettiness of some of her actions. At heart, however, it is simply a spellbindingly funny performance with excellent comic timing and delivery.
Funny and very moving A Quick Guide to Ruining your Life is a gem of a play.
A Quick Guide to Ruining your Life returns to The Kings Arms Theatre on 6 and 7 July 2019.
Reviewer: David Cunningham