Dawn French Is A Huge Twat | Review of the national treasure's tour as it hits the London Palladium © Marc Brenner
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Dawn French Is A Huge Twat

Review of the national treasure's tour as it hits the London Palladium

Dawn French pitches her latest theatrical stand-up show as an antidote to the curated perfection of social media. For flaws are what make us human, she argues – if only as an aside – while demonstrating that even national treasures have their tales of toe-curling embarrassment, and plenty of them.

Indeed, it’s precisely French’s willingness to embrace such moments of cringe that makes her so loved, showing herself to be just as big an idiot as the best of us.She might be a star now, but on making her first film she was just as clueless about the process as we would be – probably even more so.

Her celebrity, and proximity to even bigger stars, gives her a supporting cast that includes Meryl Streep, Kenneth Branagh, Ian McKellen, Elton John and Colin the hippo wrangler. Any one of these encounters would make a fantastically amusing talk show story, but the cumulative effect of sharing her idiocy has a more endearing effect. It’s impossible not to be charmed by these two hours of (mostly) self-deprecating anecdotes.

To be fair, not all of the twattishness is hers. The best tale has Dustin Hoffman acting very oddly in a backstage encounter – and, even more hilariously, apparently oblivious to his weirdness. And a story about an argument with her Comic Strip colleague Peter Richardson burnishes her feminist credentials… and shows not all those alternative comedy pioneers were quite as right-on as they liked to think.

Dawn on stage

But mostly French is the butt of her own stories, from a terribly misjudged fancy-dress costume she and then-hubby Lenny Henry chose for Sir Elton’s 50th birthday to mistakenly thinking Ben Elton had offered her the lead in a West End play and to screwing up her audition for the Mamma Mia! movie so badly she lost the role that should have been a shoo-in. But at least she got her revenge in sketch form later…

Each story is skilfully constructed. And for all the starriness, French brings an everywoman intimacy to every anecdote. Just like a non-famous ‘Muggle’, she’s prone to getting starstruck, such as suddenly realising her adoration for Norah Jones makes her just another deluded fangirl. Tricks like calling her agent simply ‘Maureen’ add to the convincing illusion we are all friends here, sharing an indiscrete dinner party chat. 

Initially, her delivery sounds more rehearsed than your average stand-up, but her warmth soon percolates through. Even if some of the stories lack proper punchlines – the catchphrase-like reiteration of ‘What. A. Twat’ an increasingly flimsy substitute to a real payoff – the following tale is always eagerly awaited, the journey as important as the destination. 

Dawn with twat sign

‘Have no regrets’ is her take-out message, even if she must surely have rued her choices in the moment. The press recently picked up the story of her knackering her knee recreating the Vicar of Dibley puddle plunge on a chat show, and is a fine example of her ‘just get on with it’ resilience. No compensation-culture lawsuit from her, though you think she might have warranted one.

Dawn French Is A Huge Twat has just enough theatrical flourishes to make it feel at home at the London Palladium, with some well-placed visuals on the big screen and a very obviously engineered standing ovation finale. But it is French’s charisma – earned from turning her shame into laughs – that fills the space effortlessly.

Dawn French Is A Huge Twat is at the London Palladium until Sunday and continues on tour until November 26. Dawn French tour dates. She is also releasing a book on the same theme next month:

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Review date: 22 Sep 2023
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: London Palladium

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