DAWN FRENCH: THIRTY MILLION MINUTES AT THE NEW ALEXANDRA THEATRE, BIRMINGHAM
Theatre Run: Wednesday 18 - Friday 20 June 2014
Performance Reviewed: Wednesday 18 June 2014
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
Dawn French’s first ever solo tour (yes, really), Thirty Million Minutes, is prefaced with an announcement that this is a show specifically for ‘nice’ people, and anybody critical, cynical or otherwise negative do not belong there. It dovetails off of that same well-meaning, bubbly, inoffensive and down-to-Earth vibe and persona that French has cultivated pretty much faultlessly across her career. It’s the same warmth and cuddly bonhomie that made The Vicar of Dibley such an irrepressibly lovable show, even when some of it’s plotting or narrative work was a trifle humdrum. It’s why French remains such a beloved and well-regarded National treasure - she genuinely registers as a nice person herself, and, just as crucially, a very empathetic and real one.
Thirty Million Minutes, then, compounds on this with a funny, honest, heartwarming, and even occasionally heartbreaking, reflection on the life that has lead the comedienne to the titular milestone (that’s how long she’s been alive, you see!). The notion of time, and the importance of savouring the moment as well as appreciating what and who have shaped your past, is the predominant theme running throughout this mostly autobiographical show. Naturally, given the two hour running time, it is mostly anecdotal and picks a selection of ‘best bits’ so to speak, but French does a beautiful job of creating a microcosmic take on life as a whole - there are moments of genuine hilarity, such as an early account of a real-life visit from the Queen Mother who French depicts as some Magwitch-ian horror (clue: it’s the teeth), just as there are brutally honest and moving moments of sadness, loss and frustration such as the suicide of her beloved father whilst she was still a teenager. It’s the human condition and life’s verisimilitude in a wonderfully fleshed out and engaging evening - one minute she can be enraged at a journalist poking into the life of her adopted daughter or lamenting the deep-seated racism her and previous husband Lenny Henry had to endure over the course of her marriage, and the next she can have the auditorium in fits of hysterics recounting an occasion where she was required to examine a relative’s genitals, or simply miming the hell out of The Eurythmics or Procol Harum in a callback to her formative years.
Some may find it all lacks edge or is a trifle too mawkish or pedestrian in it’s message, or even comes across as a little too structured and scripted, and indeed if you are after a cutting night of contemporary comedy then Thirty Million Minutes may not scratch your itch. However, in many ways that is precisely the point of the show, it isn’t even really about comedy at all, but rather a very earnest musing on life, love, family and friends as told and recounted by an instinctively very funny and talented lady. French’s energy and spirit is unbounded throughout, and not only does she look considerably younger than her years, she radiates that aforementioned humble naturalism and, yes, niceness, that completely strips the shows’ heavier or loftier moments of any potential shred of ego or soapboxing. Contrary to what she says in the show, she never comes across as needy or entitled, and where one could easily have expected an evening of name-dropping or leaning on the familiarity of shows such as Dibley, her partnership with Jennifer Saunders or some of her more prolific film work (Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia etc.), such things are merely touched upon in passing or left out entirely. This is a show about Dawn French the mother, the wife, the sister and the daughter, and is profoundly more resonant and impacting as a result.
Even some of the greatest comics have tripped up recently when passing off their life stories as entertainment (see the mixed response to the wonderful Joan Rivers’ A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress) but French has navigated such waters with stirring, moving and frequently hilarious results. Go see it to laugh, to cry, and to maybe even make a few life reflections and decisions of your own, for in Thirty Million Minutes French has crafted a thing of quite subliminal but unshakeable humanity and genius.
(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * * (5 out of 5 Stars)
+ Honest, moving, funny, real
+ French is a naturally gifted and empathetic orator
+ Wonderful cross-section of anecdotes and reflections
+ Pretty much omits showbiz and celebrity
+ Utterly devoid of ego or pretence
DAWN FRENCH: THIRTY MILLION MINUTES is running at the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham from Wednesday 18 to Friday 20 June 2014.
CLICK HERE for more information on the show's run at the Alex and to book your tickets!
Alternatively telephone the New Alexandra Theatre's booking line direct on 0844 871 3011.
Press tickets for this performance of Dawn French: Thirty Million Minutes were provided courtesy of Neil Reading PR. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.