Guest reviewer LUKE JONES appreciates our Dawnie…
At the very beginning, with a large clock face ticking behind her, Dawn French describes what we are about to see as a slice of time. It is not a slice, it is a chunky portion; a whistle-stop tour of her emotional, but strangely not televisual life. Her performance is completely at ease from the starting pistol. Now 56, this is her look back through her childhood, the nature of relationships and her body, all with strange features (i.e a quick audit of ‘women’s holes’). At one point she pulls up her top to show us how her stomach and bum are symmetrical when standing in profile. There is a huge roar and we’re quickly chastised for agreeing with her too readily.
She is most alive when telling stories or profiling characters from her life, only faltering when she errs into glib philosophy. Golden anecdotes include having the Queen Mother for tea and her picking a shard of glass from her ‘mum’s muff’ (separate stories..) With ease and theatrical flair she conjures figures such as her Evil Aunty Lill, who had an alarm set for 3am to down a glass of gin, and her lionised Father who tragically committed suicide when she was 19. Characters are her trade, and watching her get stuck into them is a treat. In a short space of time we move from her mother accusing her of ‘rimming’ strangers, to an emotionally wrought direct address to her dead father, delivered in recorded voice-over, as she faces away from us and smoke drifts up from the stage.
This is a one-woman show, but with a notable male co-star: Michael Grandage directs. At first it was difficult to see why? Dawn wrote it, she’s performing it, she lived it. How could he have been anything more than a sounding-board with occasional suggestions? But his influence runs straight through the piece; it is a show, not a recitation. Slick graphics, scenic lighting, a darkly simple set and emotive sound bind it together. Treated as drama not a lecture, it succeeds on those terms. Its buoyancy only droops under the weight of dull existential life-lessons which add nothing. Imperfect but fun; a few misses, but mainly very funny hits.
box office 0114 249 6000 to 8 June
then Touring to 29th Nov http://www.dawnfrenchontour.com