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Adelaide Fringe 2013

Dorothy Parker’s Sweet Release of Death

Lucy Gransbury

Genre: Burlesque, Cabaret

Venue: Ayers House Museum - State Dining Room


Low Down

Tired and bedraggled but still bitingly witty, the poet and famous ‘wisecracker’ Dorothy Parker contemplates taking her own life. Through songs, poems, puns, quotes and of course, acidic insults, Parker reflects on her time in the mortal realm. Her time in the spotlight, her disdain for ‘good’ women, her days at the Algonquin Round Table, and the lovers she will be leaving behind, or have left already.

Unapologetically uncouth, smart as a tack and terribly good at being grouchy, Dorothy Parker’s Sweet Relief of Death is a reminder why one of the most beloved poets in the world was considered the best precisely because she was so bad.


There were laughs from the get-go as Dorothy Parker, (played phenomenally by Lucy Gransbury), tromped into the room, her tights ripped, cigarette clamped between her teeth, and eyeliner smeared. Pouring herself a hearty glass of gin, she then sat down at her writing table, and tried to compose her suicide note.

This activity ultimately proved unsuccessful, which was probably for the best, as Parker was an utterly entertaining evening guest in her day, and Gransbury channels the feisty old broad with uncanny accuracy. After kicking off the show with the song ‘Three Little Words’, Parker explains that she’s simply sick of living in this world, with nothing to live for. Only perhaps her dog Troy, which she can never seem to find.

Then there’s a spoken word reading of Parker’s well-known poem, ‘Women: A Hate Song’ and the song ‘The Girls of Summer’, as the poet moans about the fact that women are all so disgustingly positive, and sweet, and good natured. Parker preferred receiving accolades for being acidic, and the play’s take on her now notorious review of ‘Winnie the Pooh’ was a hoot.

The play undergoes a tonal shift after Parker tries to write goodbye to her friend and unrequited love Robert Benchley, becoming more sombre. Parker muses about her rough childhood, her divorces, her abortions and miscarriages, her fight with depression, and the ups and downs of her writing career. My personal highlight of the show was Gransbury’s beautiful rendition of ‘It Was a Very Good Year’.

Finishing with Parker’s best known piece, ‘Resume’, Gransbury was greeted with thunderous applause, which was richly deserved. The show was incredibly clever in the ways that it snuck in direct quotes from Parker, and even more cleverly, scripted its own one-liners which were just as funny as Parker’s original bon mots, if not even more so.

Gransbury’s voice is magnificently haughty and husky, carrying across the room. Her singing was first class, and even in the quieter moments, she is a gifted silent comedian, cracking up the audience in places just with a well-timed cigarette pull or raised eyebrow. Her repartee with members of the audience was also very witty, and I always appreciate performers who go that extra length to work the room.

She is helped along by her pianist, a talented musician whom she referred to as ‘Calamari’ in a running joke throughout the night, the two women making a cracking comedic duo. In fact, my only criticism is that the show was so good I wanted more information about it! Even though each guest was greeted with a small piece of paper explaining Parker’s contribution to the English lexicon and a reprint of ‘Women: A Hate Song’, I would have liked a programme, so that I could credit the full cast and crew who put on such a first-rate production. I should add also that the setting, the Ayers House State Dining Room, was utterly gorgeous, and complimented the play’s retrospective subject matter impeccably.

A play that is perfect for people who have yet to go dotty over Dorothy and full-blown ‘Parker-philes’ alike, ‘Dorothy Parker’s Sweet Relief of Death’ makes the morbid marvellous, and the distempered delightful.