sat 19/10/2019

Dawn French, Brighton Theatre Royal | reviews, news & interviews

Dawn French, Brighton Theatre Royal

Dawn French, Brighton Theatre Royal

One half of comedy duo makes assured debut as solo performer

Dawn French's first solo show, 'Thirty Million Minutes'. takes its title from the length of time she has been aliveMarc Brenner

She may have been performing for more than 30 years, but it takes some cojones to do your first solo show at the age of 56. Dawn French, with neither long-time partner Jennifer Saunders nor fellow cast members on stage, makes her debut with Thirty Million Minutes, an autobiographical show about the 30 million minutes (give or take) she has spent on this earth. She is doing it in the sliver of time between the madness of my menopause and the impending madness of my dementia”.

It's less a stand-up show, more a one-woman “how-to” life guide and, as directed by theatre and opera director Michael Grandage, has some suitably stagey moments. Tragedy is the other side of comedy and French and Grandage unashamedly play with the audience's emotions as she deals very wittily with things such as body image and the tabloid press, as well as talking movingly about her beloved father's suicide and her unsuccessful IVF treatment when she was married to fellow comic Lenny Henry.

The framework of the two-hour show is a series of questions, flashed up on the huge screen behind French - “How Do You Be a Woman/Sister/Daughter/Mother” - which she then attempts to answer, using lots of family photographs and video clips, recounting anecdotes about her life and those in it.

She tells her story in roughly chronological order, occasionally taking a sideways route but working her way back to the question in hand. I found the first half of the show – about her happy childhood up to her early teenage years – mildly amusing but not laughter-filled (although her encounter as a toddler with the Queen Mother and her rotten teeth is hilarious). The second half, however, is much funnier and more tightly written.

She knows that fame is all well and good, but it matters not a jot if you don't have the love of family and friendsIt's here we learn about her two grannies, both of whom sound like they may be worth a show of their own. One was always baking cakes, the other was always on the lookout for a good time, even if it meant doing her own grand-daughter out of a few bob. In this section, too, French tells the story of her father's depression and suicide with an astonishing honesty; the rawness of the emotion is almost palpable but, as with describing the appalling racism she and Henry had to endure, she strikes just the right note to allow us eventually to laugh. “He hadn't told me he was black, so that was a shock,” is her wonderfully deft way of opening the release valve when talking about other people's hatred.

French plays the clown to great effect, too, dancing to the music of her youth and acting out the time she gave her elderly mother an impromptu gynaecological examination. Those in the front few rows get the full effect of that particular bit of stage direction.

The show would benefit from backstage stories from her career and there are times when French treads into preachy territory – I think we all know the importance of men being good fathers, for instance – but she manages to pull it back because, as one learns over the course of the two hours, she is allergic to bullshit and this is clearly coming from the heart. She knows that fame is all well and good, but it matters not a jot if you don't have the love of family and friends; French ends the show on a genuinely life-affirming note and it's no wonder that she has been getting standing ovations throughout the tour, as she did here.

  • Dawn French is at Brighton Theatre Royal until 28 June, then touring until 6 December
There are times when French treads into preachy territory but this is clearly coming from the heart

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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