Edinburgh Fringe 2011
More ‘important’ than ‘art’, but an engaging, intense and exquisitely funny performance nonetheless by two ladies who are experts at their craft.
This is a difficult show to review; mostly because the subject matter dictates that the experience will depend on your own knowledge and engagement with mental illness – in this case, depression. The broad appeal that it wants to (and needs to) have means it tries to be all things to all men- especially in the opening 20 minutes. These twenty minutes contain very, very unoriginal -but factually true- stand-up about the modern condition. Wax tries to reach out to the audience in this way, but it felt like I’ve heard it millions of times before. -we’re all too busy- isn’t social comment if that isn’t followed by an actual comment. This of course has its purpose – to get the squares on side before the second half – but it does make for a show unbalanced in quality. The three stars for this show would have been a four star, if not for these uninteresting 20 minutes.
Another point is that the Udderbelly (the upside-down purple cow) just doesn’t work that well for this show. The acoustics make Wax’s voice (which isn’t in its best ever form at the start of the show) sound even feebler. It’s also quite a cold room, which may be suited for rowdy late-night stand-up but not for a gentler show such as this.
What is never in doubt, though, is Ruby Wax’s prowess as a performer. She is just incredibly good at comedy, hitting her marks with verve, engaging the audience fully. Adroitly, she reels in the squares to later bash them over the head with the ‘darker’ material. Even in the weaker sections of her show, Wax’s acting talent (which she has in spades) saved the show from falling into the trap of boring stand-up.
Judith Owen, who functions as comic foil and as provider of musical interludes is more than ‘the other woman in my one-woman show’. The songs she plays to illustrate Wax’s narrative are often scarily intense, with a haunting, early Kate Bush-esque beauty. The fact that they’re often over before they started only intensifies Owen’s contributions.
But regardless of this first act, the show The show gets better by the minute- as Wax gets darker, she also gets funnier. She is unapologetic and unashamed in pointing out her foibles, jealousies and pet hates; endearing her to even her most ardent detractors.
Ironically, the hardest points are made in the 8 minute Q&A session after the show. If anything, this shows the amount of ways in which people can misunderstand a show. The one in four-example Wax used to illustrate the frequency of mental illness was applicable to this crowd too, since a quarter of the audience was really on side with Wax and Owen whilst others completely missed the mark. Questions such as: “Don’t you like the moments when you’re ‘up’?” which Wax, after defining herself and Owen as sufferers of Clinical Depression, not Bipolar Disorder; deftly brought down with an ‘It’s not a superpower’. She was also down-to-earth to fellow sufferers, telling a lady who complained about the flatness of sensation she had after 25 years of Prozac that: ‘Did you like the alternative?’.
An hour is too short for Losing It, it needs the time to breathe. Therefore the 3 star review for this performance could be substituted for a 4 star for the full West End show, starting next week. I can see this show heading a great BBC2 informative night about depression, getting millions of viewers and informing them about the still-taboo subject of depression. And ironically, this would get Wax back on TV – which is what kickstarted Wax’s most intense bout of depression anyway. But this shouldn’t matter. She (and the nation) would benefit. Apart from the bland first act, there’s some cracking comedy, beautiful musical interludes and (most importantly) highly relevant points to be made by Wax and Owen. Whether you are the one in four or have no experience of depression, go and see this show. A nearly perfect marriage of comedy and infotainment.