There can’t be many – are there any? – comedians who decide to do a tour of psychiatric hospitals to try out their latest material before launching it on the general public.
Certainly, Stephen Fry, Paul Merton, Lenny Henry and Jack Dee, to name just a few, have all talked about their battles with depression.
But Ruby Wax is currently making something of a career out of it and as a twice-times patient in a London celebrity-favoured clinic, she went on the road to Priory hospitals around the country to raise money for the charity Depression Alliance before embarking on the commercial tour that brought her to The Lowry last night.
Wax has suffered from clinical depression since she was 10, is a trained psychotherapist and is here trying to pull off the uniquely tricky balancing act of sharing personal insights into mental illness while presenting a show that is also entertaining and amusing.
With some help from singer-pianist and fellow sufferer Judith Owen she succeeds in spades. Wax has a lot to say and the show is by no means entirely about being “not right”. There’s quite bit about the ridiculousness of the cult of celebrity; about how us formerly genteel Brits have caught the American disease of in-yer-face; there’s a nice mobile phone joke and, in the funniest section of the evening, a mock lecture on how wives should behave in relation to the income of their partner.
Throughout, Ruby weaves her autobiography - from unhappy childhood, to teenage class ugly, on to the drug of celebrity and marriage and children.
She theorises that none of us really knows what we are supposed to be doing in this life - there is no definitive manual for being a mother or a father or a teenager - and thus universal confusion reigns.
The subject matter becomes even more honest as the second half progresses and it reaches a conclusion in which Wax candidly admits that the voices are still in her head but they are fading and she is learning to cope with them.
Owen’s music helps to underscore the words and she’s also a character for Wax to bounce off. It’s a mix that isn’t stand-up and not quite cabaret but something in between.
You don’t have to have had experience of clinical depression to appreciate the show – though from the number of people last night who were clearly familiar with the mind-altering pills Wax names at the beginning, plenty had been somewhere in the vicinity.
Ultimately it’s an uplifting and brutally honest couple of hours. And being honest about yourself and life is what Ruby Wax sees as the way forward for everyone.