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Ruby Wax: Losing It
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Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Ruby Wax: Losing It
Starring ruby Wax and Judith Owen. At some point in our lives 1 in 4 of us will be affected by mental illness... Bring 3 friends! Ruby Wax had it all – career, dream house, husband, kids, so when was the moment she realised she was the 1 in 4... Somewhere between painting her kitchen beige (again), realising she didn’t own a life manual or comprehend the contents of a children’s party bag? Ruby’s acerbic, honest humour and Judith Owen’s touching songs are both poignant and laugh-out-loud funny.
Ruby Wax: Losing It
Ruby Wax built a career on being the brash, gobby American, irritating as many as she entertained with her loud, large personality.
But true to the almost hackneyed tears-of-a-clown formula, behind all the boisterous comedy, Wax was fighting a tough battle with depression. In Losing It, she comes clean about the illness in what turns out to be a mature, thoughtful and touchingly amusing show, likely to surprise even her most ardent detractors.
Depression, she asserts, is not a romantic ‘singing the blues’ melancholy but a debilitating grey fug that affects around one in four of us. Her condition – which she has been free of for almost four years, thanks to medication – led her to the Priory, and this is the story of how she wound up there.
Some of the psychological elements will be universally familiar– from the playground taunts that drove her to become successful because of the need to prove them wrong to the performers’ need for the adulation of strangers to fill an emotional void. But the fame her comedy gave her only added to the stresses: Did people only love her for the construct she created? And how will she retain her status in the superficial celebrity world that prizes youth and beauty above all?
Wax proves remarkably insightful on much of this, especially the modern condition of maintaining frantically busy lives – even if by artificial means – to drown out those nagging questions about whether your existence is really fulfilling. She is aided in her exploration by ‘the other woman in my one-woman show’ Judith Owen, her friend, fellow sufferer and wife of Simpsons star Harry Shearer (who is in the star-scattered audience tonight). Her music adds classiness, texture and dramatic clout to the show, with her haunting voice singing brief but hugely effective refrains to underpin the story Wax so engagingly tells.
That the narrative is clearly taken from her own experiences certainly endears the American to the opening night audience. She is careful just how much she exposes, mind, glossing over some of the more, well, depressing aspects of her depression while still revealing enough of her anguish to inform and illustrate a subject that is still so often taboo. Yet for all the work this show does in such worthy areas as ‘raising awareness’ – it never loses sight of the fact that it’s supposed to be a funny and touching comic monologue.
Wax occasionally slips into cliché, especially in some of the more flippant routines – how many people parody pretentious middle-class children’s names with the monicker ‘Chlamydia’? – but these are minor missteps compared to the assured way she tackles the core subject. She mocks everything from the well-intentioned but unthinking friends who tell her to ‘perk up’, the clatter of vacuous yummy mummies in conversation, or the dynamics of marrying for money. Some of these peripheral subjects divert the focus the honest description of her breakdown, to some detriment, but they also provide light, fluffy relief.
Her tales from the clinic – this show was almost called Live From The Priory – are particularly entertaining, the extreme characters she describes – both patients and staff, such as the ex-military salsa teacher – make this seem somewhere between sitcom and intense drama. One Flew Over The Robin’s Nest, perhaps? And by the end, you feel genuinely moved.
The Q&A session that follows the interval almost inevitably becomes a support group for others who have suffered depression – though Wax doesn’t shy away from teasing them about their own illness as she has mocked her own. However some of the questions exposes flaws in the show you mightn’t otherwise have noticed – especially the question of whether depression is a purely chemical malfunctioning of the brain, or a psychological one brought on by circumstance, which she struggles to answer.
But under the experienced directorial hand of Thea Sharrock, Losing It is defined by both poignancy and wit, proving both a touching and amusing night out.
|Date of live review: Monday 1st Aug, '11|
Review by Steve Bennett
I was not impressed with this show at all. I thought it would be warts and all delivered in a Ruby Wax way but it wasn't and it wasn't amusing in the slightest. The songs I think just killed the show too because they had nothing to do with what was being said. I think Ruby roped in Judith Owen just for a bit of support on stage. Very disappointing.