Living life by the minute

Dawn French

30 Million Minutes - Dawn French

New Alexandra Theatre


DAWN French, at 56, or 30 million minutes, give or take, seems to have invented a new theatrical genre, the coming of middle age show.

She has toured in the past with long time comedy partner Jennifer Saunders, and been in a one woman play, but this is a different animal, on stage on her own, with no sketches or jokes to fall back on, just her life for a script relying on just her to bring it alive.

And she succeeds. It is fun, gloriously funny and at times sad and poignant as French bares her soul, or at least peels off one or two layers. Her first marriage to Lenny Henry for example, despite sensational headlines, ended with no recriminations or bitterness, it was a marriage that was over, that had run its course, a chapter that had ended, just as her later marriage to Mark Bignell opened a new one and brought her a whole new family

This was This is Your Life without a Red Book or Eamonn Andrews, Dawn French unplugged so to speak complete with visual aids in the shape of a huge screen behind her which is an effective tool providing a slide show of events and people French is talking about,

We start, logically, with from her childhood with her RAF sergeant father and older brother Gary, which incidentally gave us a family square of four members.

We are told of the idyllic days on her dad’s posting to Cyprus, of boarding school and the angst and traumas that were, and are, so important in teenage lives.

We learned of her struggle to become pregnant, of fertility treatment, of finally success and then two weeks later a miscarriage, and finally acceptance and adoption of daughter Billie.


And there was her startling weight loss which filled acres of gossip columns with speculation about gastric bands, about her pining for Henry and unable to eat after the breakup of her marriage and any number of other unchecked and unconfirmed theories.

To a background of lurid headlines on the screen behind her French told us the real reason, a uterine cancer scare and a decision to have a precautionary hysterectomy.

The huge weight loss from a regime she described as “grim” was for purely practical reasons. Lose the weight and she could have keyhole surgery and a three week recover, don’t lose it and conventional surgery would involve being cut open and a three month recovery.

We were told of the pearl necklace scam by the evil granny, of visits to the good granny, of a father who told her how beautiful she was and gave her the armour to face life and we were told of his suicide when she was 19.

He had suffered from severe depression for years. His wife had known but he never let his family know until it had all become too much and he took his life in a car filled with exhaust fumes. It was a poignant moment. French could have hated him or still loved him, she chose the latter and was, if not happy, at least content that he had found his own peace.

The family square had become a triangle and her mother, Roma’s death, left it as a line, Dawn and Gary.

This is a show about Dawn French, her life, what and who she is and, unlike far too may shows where stars talk about themselves there is no name dropping or seeing how many celeb tales can be crammed into two hours. Her showbiz life, French and Saunders, Vicar of Dibley or any of the stars she has met or appeared with did not get even a mention.

This was French laid bare. It was very funny and very honest by a woman who is happy being well upholstered, at ease with her body, as she demonstrated with helpful diagrams on screen, although she does suspect she has been given the legs of an old, short, fat man, and who sees herself and what she has become as the product of her family and all her friends.

This is no showbiz memory lane job, this is Dawn French telling the world who she is and how she got here as a person, not as a much loved celebrity. She has a tale to tell and she does it beautifully with great humour and humanity. To 20-06-14.

Roger Clarke



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