I’ve never had an evening in the theatre quite like Ruby Wax’s Losing It. It’s a cross between Ally McBeal, a Whatsonstage.com Outing (every night) and a group therapy session – oh, and stand-up comedy, of course.
As in the American TV show, in which singer-songwriter Vonda Shepherd found her own fame providing the soundtrack to Calista Flockhart’s title character’s life, Wax is accompanied on stage by her friend and fellow medicated depressive Judith Owen on the piano, Owen’s soulful song snippets poignantly underscoring the emotional angst of Wax’s musings on the scourges of modern life – envy, busyness, fame-seeking – and her own downward spiral into mental illness.
As in a Whatsonstage.com Outing, the performance is followed by an illuminating Q&A – in fact, it comprises the entire, post-interval second act. And as in a group therapy session, experiences, advice and goodwill are openly shared.
Finally, as Wax fans might expect, there’s plenty of caustic comedy, about yummy mummies whose noses are so turned up they can look down their own nostrils, whose pelvic muscles are so Pilates-powered they can hoover up carpets, and so on.
It’s these stand-up style observational riffs that, while raising gales of laughter, I found least satisfying. And their dominance in the first half-hour slows the emotional and dramatic momentum of the piece. It’s when Wax reveals, with startling truthfulness, the personal that her experience becomes universal – the irony about her lifelong fear of not belonging is that it makes the outsider in us all identify most strongly with her.
So, not comedy, not cabaret, not strictly theatre, but a new kind of entertainment genre that breaks boundaries and taboos too while challenging the stigma associated with mental illness that now affects one in four Britons. A show about depression that’s far from depressing – on the contrary, it’s empowering.
In addition to their scheduled performances, Wax and Owen have organised sessions with mental health workers every Tuesday afternoon at the theatre, free to the public. As one audience member pointed out during the Q&A on the night I attended, Alcoholics Anonymous started 75 years ago with just two alcoholics and one meeting. These two brave ladies could be at the helm of something much bigger than a limited West End season.