Losing It has a strange background for a show on a 40-theatre tour with the intention of moving into the West End. After comedian/writer/television presenter Ruby Wax met jazz singer/pianist Judith Owen and the two became friends, they discovered they shared a history of depression, in both cases not conquered, but controlled. From this bond they developed a show about depression that played at many Priory clinics (Ruby being a former Priory patient) and now has emerged into the theatrical mainstream.
How do you integrate a serious presentation of the nature of depression and the problems of sufferers with a theatrical entertainment? Initially, perhaps, Losing It tilts somewhat towards the brashly entertaining. Judith Owen opens the evening with a wonderfully moving and evocative song (which I guess might be called “I want to thank you”) which immediately justifies Jamie Cullum’s description of her as “a female Randy Newman”, but doesn’t get far before Ruby Wax interrupts with her account of their meeting. Cleverly the songs are integrated with the spoken word, but for much of the first half I would have liked to hear more than eight bars at a time.
Judith’s non-speaking role carries decided hints of Dame Edna’s friend Madge, but somehow the structuring of the show allows her to be simultaneously dumb stooge and pure-voiced, wise and melancholy commentator. Meanwhile Ms Wax, in full-on stand-up mode, launches into a sort of autobiography with very funny set pieces ranging from Ruby being patronised by the rich and popular girls at school to Ruby auditioning for Juliet and dragging out the emotion by thinking of her dog dying, with wicked parodies of everyone from her parents (who couldn’t order in a restaurant without sounding as if they were declaring war on Britain) to the English upper classes.
This is fine and the show’s main theme (“There is no manual for living”) surfaces frequently enough to keep us on track between the fun, but the evening develops real power in the final sequence before the interval as Ruby Wax’s highly entertaining impression of go-getting, interspersed with sadly reflective song, becomes increasingly manic, even frightening.
In the shorter second half Ruby Wax does not spare herself or the audience as she works towards the realisation that she is (we all are) the manual. She ends up slumped away from the audience as Judith Owen reprises (this time in full) the opening number.
Losing It, which can next be seen in Yorkshire on May 27th at the Lyceum, Sheffield, ends up as a thought-provoking evening, though fans of the brash Ruby Wax style will also find much to enjoy – a style that can be seen as a reaction against the fear of unpopularity or failure. Thea Sharrock’s direction and Tim Mascal’s lighting are both unobtrusively effective.