IT’S BETTER TO LIE THAN TO TELL THE TRUTH AND END UP ALONE IN A DITCH CRYING at the Wardrobe, Bristol

Snappy title, eh? Following her considerable success with Jean-Luc Picard and Me, Ellen Waddell returns to The Wardrobe Theatre with another piece of confessional comedy, a genre that can all too easily blur the distinction between entertainment and self-indulgence.  Waddell just about manages to avoid this pitfall, though there are occasions when her apparent need to unburden herself of various personal anxieties makes the show feel more like group therapy than comedy. However, she provides enough genuine laugh-out-loud material in the course of its 45 minutes to be forgiven.

Firing off a party popper to signal time travel, she invites us to meet the Ellen of 2012. We discover that back then she was unemployed and unattached, having abandoned playing bass guitar in an indie rock band. She is initially a little too eager to engage the audience’s affection, speaking with such a rapid urgency that some words are lost.  There is a more effective variety in pace and tone later in the show.  She recounts an excruciatingly awkward date with Charlie, a doctor, whose words we hear from a laptop.  She is desperate to impress him, painfully aware that his job involves saving lives while she is a just a would-be writer.  She consoles herself with the thought that words can save lives too, as in ‘May contain nuts’. Waddell makes some very funny observations about the futility of trying to present herself as an idealised feminine creature: ‘I don’t want him to think I have bodily functions.’  They are a spectacular mismatched: Charlie is an ultra-conventional Tory, while she confesses that she is turned on by the animated fox in Disney’s Robin Hood.

The date with Charlie is disastrous, leaving her desolate and him with an unpleasant medical condition.  There are further disasters at job interviews, where again she finds herself selling a wholly false version of herself, claiming that ‘my real passion is truck logistics administration.’ The lies are piling up and the mood of the show becomes much darker. She self-harms with booze and there is real despair. At this point the ‘confessional’ aspect of the show makes for uncomfortable listening. Then, when left alone with a friend’s baby, she finds herself reflecting on the unselfconscious spontaneity and honesty of childhood, and she regrets the loss of that innocence. She realises that there is an important difference between ‘having a conversation’, and ‘showing off’. It has been easier to lie than to admit to imperfections, but now she confides in her friend and discovers that her honesty is rewarded with empathy and understanding.

At the end of the show she mentions that her short film The Birthday Party was shortlisted for The Kevin Spacey Foundation Award, and other scripts have received similar recognition.  It’s Better To Lie… demonstrates her skill as a writer, though its shifts in tone are sometimes a little clumsy. Her eventual realisation that honesty is the best policy is by no means an original insight, but Waddell describes her journey from deception to self-discovery with wit and self-deprecatory charm.  She is good company.   ★★★☆☆   Mike Whitton   21st July 2017