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Review: Dawn French's Thirty Million Minutes at the Mill Volvo Tyne Theatre, Newcastle

Embarking on her first stand-up tour at the age of 56, Dawn French shows why she's an audience-pleaser

*****
Marc Brenner Dawn French
Dawn French

by Jemma Crew

Thirty million minutes. No, it’s not the length of the show – even the most die-hard Dawn French fans might struggle with that.

At 56, it is the number of minutes she has lived, loved and laughed through. Poised between her menopause and the “impending doom of dementia”, this is French’s first stand-up show.

Yet to call this stand-up would be misleading. To be sure, French is as funny as ever. The time she encounters the Queen Mother’s teeth as a young child has the audience in creases. She nicknames her breasts Ant and Dec for their errant misbehaviour, and seems genuinely appalled that not everyone shares her passion for Big Brother.

But it is also a therapeutic meditation on loss, depicted with tenderness and a great deal of struggle. Faces flash up on a television-like screen as French leads us through it all: her inability to conceive; losing weight; the end of her first marriage.

The show is a surreal space for French to reflect on the relationships she has had and the roles she has played. Granddaughter, daughter, sister, mother, wife - she is all of these and more.

It is incredibly stylised and controlled. Most moving is the brutal honesty with which she describes her father’s suicide when she was 19.

We see him – handsome in uniform with a cap she calls a crown – king of their family. I must forgive him, she says, because I love him. It’s a moving scene of atonement - a final, ongoing goodbye. I make a mental note to ring my dad – how many more minutes do we have left?

Marc Brenner Dawn FrenchDawn French
Dawn French
 

Equally poignant is her struggle with her body. She recalls a moment with her father as a self-loathing teenager.

“Just as I was full of self-doubt, he gave me armour and I’ve been wearing it ever since”.

It’s refreshing when later she remarks: “My body is where I live and I am very comfortable in it, but it’s just my shell, it’s not the only thing that defines me”.

She refuses to accept the messages that cause women to make enemies of their bodies: “I am simply not available for this kind of c*** any more.”

The end is ultimately celebratory and, boy, does French look like she has it all. Her adopted daughter Billie, whose singing fills the theatre; her second husband -“very difficult not to marry”; and her new-found vitality and confidence.

Fireworks appear on screen and with a smile almost as wide as her outstretched arms French screams that everyone is fabulous. During the thundering applause I think that she is the most fabulous of us all.

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