Jenny Eclair: Old Dog, New Tricks

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

‘I’ve based my entire career on of period jokes,’ says Jenny Éclair. ‘Let me have just one last one…’

Indeed, the Grumpy Old Woman is, if not exactly embracing the menopause, belligerently squaring up to it. She’s not by a long chalk the only comedian to bitch about encroaching middle-age – given that most of those who helped shaped today’s scene are no longer bold young Turks, but battered old ottomans – though it’s still rare to hear this sort of material from a female perspective.

Most women, held back by decorous notions of ladylike mystique, dare not speak of the ravages of time. But Éclair is untroubled by such thoughts, never having been one for caring too much about complying with whatever other people think she ought to be. Where other women in her situation might obsess on diets, exercise, cosmetic surgery or fashions as if to deny ageing, she is more phlegmatic, confronting the inevitable, if not exactly quietly, but with effective, unflinching honestly. 

The way she tells it, you would think turning 50 is not the onset of a new era of happiness, as it’s been suggested, but just one small step from dribbling in a rocking chair in the Bide-A-Wee Retirement Complex. But from the point of view of the feckless rock chick she once was, it probably is. She confesses to missing the days when she was a ‘right old slag’ when her addiction was cocaine, not the Marks and Spencer’s Per Una range.

In the last tour, just over three years ago, she directed much of her anger at ageing outwardly, dismissing any target from Paris Hilton to with sweary derision, but not much humour. Here, although Jeremy Kyle and Wag weddings get something of a skewering, she directs her bitter wit more at how her own body is letting her down, and it strikes a much stronger chord.

Her audience is predominantly middle-aged, middle-class women, as you might expect – never can the question ‘Who here’s seen Mamma Mia?’ be more assured of a positive response – and they lap it up with the boost of recognition. Every comic plays to their demographic, but the directness of Éclair’s confessions, crude but usually justified, will appeal beyond the target market,

She’s also toned down the performance, much fewer in-yer-face histrionics and shrill squawking; but largely striking a rather more conversational tone. There’s still a forced deliberation to some of the delivery, but mostly it’s more natural, or as natural as the ‘batty aunt with no self-censorship’ shtick will allow. Physical elements of the act, including using the comfy chair to take the weight off her feet or sitting awkwardly cross-legged on the stage, are equally less exaggerated than previously.

On such an early date in her tour, she admits she might use a bit of old material – she, naturally enough, prefers the term ‘vintage’; but it still works. And there are some ideas in this routine that a seasoned comedy-goer will be familiar with, such as the changing fashions for pubic hair, or the image of every man as beer-swilling football addicts.

But even if the old dog’s new tricks are limited; she deploys the well-established attitude and techniques to enjoyable effect. Good dog.

Review date: 16 Sep 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Millfield Theatre

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