APPROXIMATELY 30 million minutes, or 56-years-old, Dawn French is the same age her Comic Strip co-star Rik Mayall was when he died earlier this week.
Dawn French: Thirty Million Minutes - Pavilion, Glasgow
She doesn’t refer to Mayall specifically in this open, deeply autobiographical show – it’s too tightly scripted and dense with love and loss already. But his trademark grin leers out of the photos of friends at the mini-tennis tournaments French organised with her ex-husband Lenny Henry, displayed on a big screen behind her.
And his presence adds a further layer of poignancy to a life-story recounted without mawkish excess, as she adroitly treads a path of serious retrospection and fond humour.
Altogether more satisfying than her sporadic live appearances with Jennifer Saunders over the last decade, which were overblown echoes of their already spoof-heavy television work, 30 Millions Minutes directly transposes several tales from her quirky, 2008 epistolary memoir Dear Fatty. Perhaps surprisingly, “Fatty Saunders” and The Vicar of Dibley are mentioned only in passing. But then this is a reflection on life and family rather than career.
And French shares plenty – the tragic death of a father she lionised, her fertility struggles and the breakdown of her marriage to Henry, with just the mildest of barbs at his expense, as well as the often outrageous behaviour of her “evil” grandmother.
But she also effectively uses her experiences to make wider social commentary, on a media that hounds a child because of its parents’ fame or speculates incessantly upon a woman’s fluctuating weight.
Obsession with body image inspires the best routine of a show, which, partly because of its clock-ticking theme, often feels like someone clicking through slides of the family photo album. Taking each of her body parts in isolation, French is by turns vulnerable and insecure, proud and fierce about her attributes, ultimately arriving at affirmative acceptance.
Crucial to this sequence’s success is her unforced capacity for physical comedy – having claimed Eric Morecambe as an influence, there are similarities in the way she demands focus yet is seldom hammy – but that’s only part of a more general likeability.
Adoration is a rare and often dubious quality in comedy. But it’s evident long before the standing ovation that this audience genuinely love French, testimony to a jolly but frank Everygirl persona that rarely approaches shtick.
Seen on 12.06.14