The title Dawn French has chosen to give to this show explains a surprising amount about what it contains.
‘No,’ she tells her audience at the start, ‘it’s not because the show is thirty million minutes long!’
Rather, she explains, it is because she is 56 years old – or, as she reckons it, thirty million minutes. And on the basis of this performance, it’s rather a surprise to think that she has never attempted a solo stand-up show before.
Thirty Millon Minutes is French’s new touring show, and she arrived in Bristol on Friday having already received some excellent reviews. To the audience at the Hippodrome, it should have very quickly become apparent why, as French’s performance is fascinating, touching, scathing and, of course, hilarious.
In the show, French flays herself publicly and exacts a brutal amount of honesty about her personal life. It’s a kind of how to of life, a personal and amusing story of her life from the very beginning, related in sometimes awesomely acute detail from the highs to the lows and back again. What strikes you is that French’s is so often a tale of tragedy, masked with her resoundingly confident comic ability. And it really says something fantastic about her performance that although her narrative is often extraordinarily touching, she never feels tempted to address it with earnestness or self-pity. Instead, we get an evening of outright comic wit.
From the off French engages her audience in congenial banter, and it’s clear that their hearts are immediately won by the attention that they then pay to her words. From her earliest experiences, such as meeting the Queen Mother and being disappointed at the state of her teeth, to the appalling tragedy of her father’s suicide, to the unsparing detail of her uterine cancer scare, French reveals herself as an outstanding storyteller and quite remarkable at drawing warm reactions from her audience. This is a delightful and incredibly powerful evening.