Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Sandi Toksvig is a comedienne at the top of her game. A master of comic timing, she held a packed Pleasance Grand in the palm of her hand as she mused on the joys and vicissitudes of life. Great material matched with perfect delivery that made for an outstanding hour of entertainment
The Pleasance Grand is heaving, not a seat to be had for this the third performance of Sandi Toksvig’s week long stint at the Fringe. Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ blasts out from the speakers and a more uplifting piece of music is hard to imagine. Belying her less than svelte appearance and advancing years, she bounds onto the stage with all the youthful enthusiasm of Tigger and announces with considerable pride that, as of last Thursday, she is now a British citizen. Cue cheering and rapturous applause – not bad considering she hadn’t cracked her first joke yet. And if she carries on with the sort of performance that she gave this enrapt Monday afternoon audience, stuff mere citizenship, she’s going to be elected as a National Treasure before the end of the year.
Toksvig first came to the Fringe some 34 years ago, she notes, so she feels that she is now a fully-fledged member of the Saga show circuit – light lunch, show around 4pm, finishing just in time for an afternoon nap. And, although at 55 she has decided that her body is never going to be a temple (or, if it is, that there will be plenty of room for people to run around in it), she is determined to retain her enthusiasm for life.
That’s the theme that runs throughout this side-splitting hour of comedy – it’s an extended ode to joy, the benefits of living life to the full and of just getting on and doing things. And, now that’s she’s officially British, she feels at liberty to moan about the weather, form a queue at any opportunity, be unfailingly polite and never say what she really is thinking. Oh, and to be very self- effacing.
Ten minutes into the show and I was laughing so much that my ability to make coherent (and legible) notes was severely impaired. But to cut a long story short, Toksvig is the living proof that the best comedy is observational, focusing on life and its numerous vicissitudes. Her sense of self-deprecation (how British) comes across strongly as she relates a series of anecdotes about her life, littered along the way with interesting and extremely amusing episodes. The joys of live television, the dangers of appearing on the same set as animals and children, the perils of motorway service areas (why, she muse, do you appear to be jumping into an extremely shallow gene pool whenever you enter one of these establishments?) and the joy of being pinned to a ladies toilet by your rubber survival suit and having to be freed by the RNLI.
I could go on, but there was enough great material in this hour to fill an entire BBC series. But it’s not just the material, it’s the way that she delivers it. Toksvig is a master of the punch line like no other and the way she leads you to each denouement is subtly different each time. Never afraid of silence or of veering into more gentle or even semi-serious material to give the audience a break from their fits of laughter, she also used the power of suggestion to great effect on many occasions. Less, as they say, is often more.
There wasn’t a swear word in the entire hour, nor any cheap references to the more intimate parts of the anatomy, guises employed by 99.9% of comedians to keep the laughter flowing. But Toksvig is simply too good and too clever to ever need to do that – her mastery of language and its seemingly infinite nuances coupled with her creative use of some very amusing but simple visual aids ensured that the only disappointing thing about the whole performance is that it was over so quickly.
Outstanding is a much overused word in the theatre business, but this show merits such a rating. This is a comedienne at the top of her game, holding 800 people in the palm of her hand for an hour with consummate delivery and comic timing, leaving everyone with a smile on their face and a spring in their step.