Ruby Wax, former queen of putdowns, acerbic asides and ego-shattering observations, has a confession to make. The woman who detonated herself like a comedy atomic bomb in ’80s Britain has come back to the stage to reveal that – beneath the Pamela Anderson parodies – a battle with depression was taking place. ‘One in four of us suffers from mental illness. That means you, you, you and you,’ she declares, a comically accusing finger picking out willing unfortunates from the audience.
This is neither theatre nor comedy show – a fact that’s underlined as we enter the auditorium to see Wax and her co-star, pianist Judith Owen having tea, facing away from the audience. The effect is like stumbling on a French and Saunders sketch. What ensues is full of Wax’s trademark one-liners – ‘Women do Pilates five times a week so their pelvic floor is strong enough to pick up the carpet’ – in a performance that puts not just herself but all of Britain on the couch.
The relationship between the comedy and observations on mental illness is rocky: sometimes Wax’s satire is dismayingly blunt, and you start to despair until she comes out with an observation so witty and profound that it sends the whole audience quiet. What’s in no doubt is her ability to charm a room, and as the mixed evening carries on you suddenly realise that she is allowing the audience to experience precisely what the oldest theatremakers wanted the stage to provide – catharsis.
At the question-and-answer session afterwards, it was clear that she was empowering several people to talk – sometimes extremely movingly – about the most difficult and private issues in their lives. Something, you realise sadly, better scripted and more technically adept shows rarely manage.