Adventures of an Old C*** or Living My Dream- Camden Fringe, Hen and Chickens Theatre

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer and Director: Helen Prior

Personal biography and some sexy art is the basis of Helen Prior’s Camden Fringe show Adventures of an Old C*** or Living My Dream playing at the Hen and Chickens Theatre. Part stand-up routine, part art history lecture and a tour of Prior’s life, leave your prudery at door for a whirlwind tale of multiple husbands, disappointing sex, a mid-life revival and libidinous characters captured in some of the world’s greatest art works.

It is impossible not to like Prior and while her move into stand-up comedy is relatively new – one of the many things she has decided to try in recent years – she has a gregarious, inclusive and indeed candid style that largely brings the audience along on her enormously varied life story, from growing up in the former USSR (modern day Ukraine) and escaping to England to three stifling marriages, a doctorate in art history, tour guiding at the Tate and National galleries, running marathons and learning to fly.

There is certainly no shortage of adventures in this one-hour performance, an almost mind-boggling lust for life, a collector of extreme experiences that would make Prior a great person to spend a few hours with. But the show only partially lives up to the promise of its title, spending far too long on the early years and context for Prior’s current approach to life and too little time mining those events and her need for them for comedy value. Instead, they whip by in a frenzy of activity in the final 10-minutes where in fact the show should linger on doing the tango with a Strictly Come Dancing star or plunging into ice water at the North Pole, as mad and brilliant as those days must have been.

Narratively and structurally, it is a little messy with Prior veering between recounting her life to date, presenting appropriately selected artwork which she analyses on screen and some slightly tangential audience interaction, peppering the show with linguistic and historic discussions of sex and its terminology. It is interesting stuff individually but almost too much information (in every sense) for a single show that is not quite stand-up but also too honest to be a performance – there is no sense that Prior is assuming a character, just being herself.

Sex of course is her main focus, wanting it, getting it and being both disappointed and fascinated by its many forms and influences in semi-fictional artistic representations and the less satisfying reality of a long marriage. Those sitting near the front may blush when asked if they’ve ever had a threesome or when Prior points out attractive members of the audience, but a show she describes as being about ‘resurrection and erection’ tends to take a narrative approach, telling us she’s done things but not locating the humour in them. Much could be made of the unenjoyable threesome or experiences of adultery not because sex in itself needs to be funny but because people behave so awkwardly about it for which there is far more comedy mileage.

As Adventures of an Old C*** or Living My Dream develops, greater focus on the older woman in that title, of the interesting life Prior lives now, detailing her crazy escapades will give the show greater shape and become a springboard for future work. Everything else belongs in her forthcoming autobiography which is sure to be a salacious best seller.

Runs until 14 August 2022

The Camden Fringe runs from 1-28 August 2022

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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