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Review Round-Ups

Review Round-up: Is Wax Winning or Losing?

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Ruby Wax’s new stage show, Losing It, chronicling the comedian and television personality’s experience with depression, transferred to the Menier Chocolate Factory last week (24 February, previews from 15 February).

Directed by Thea Sharrock and with music supplied by Welsh singer-songwriter Judith Owen, Wax seeks tackle the "big stigma" around mental illness - which affects one in four of the population at some time in their lives.

It continues until 19 March (returning for a second stint from 17 May), with a contribution from every ticket sold being donated to Comic Relief to contribute to their work with members of the community affected by mental health issues.

The show ran the gamut of opinion, and drew some very personal responses from the critics…

Michael Coveney

"Wax and Owen have been performing the show in NHS centres and expensive rehab hospitals for over a year. Good for them. But it seems an odd choice for the Menier, even with Thea Sharrock directing so discreetly you can’t see what she’s done, and the best bits are those when Wax relaxes in Joan Rivers mode, beating herself up over her family and social entrapment with middle-class English mummies comparing their frocks, or English relatives re-enacting World War Two at Christmastime. She can be cuttingly hilarious … This goes on for 75 minutes, with Owen doodling at the keyboard and singing one or two songs that are the opposite of upbeat. After an interval, when we grab a drink or slash our wrists, there’s a Q and A session that turns into a therapy seminar, all very well in its place, but not in a theatre, thank you.”

Paul Taylor

“It was pretty obvious from the attention-seeking drive of those TV documentaries that Wax was a nervous breakdown waiting to happen. The depressive illness that this triggered and the medicated life she has had to lead since form the focus of her brave but often bewilderingly bad piece … What's intriguing is that just as in the television programmes, she's mugging behind the back of someone - but here the victim is herself or rather that more sensitive soul she has become because of her illness. That side of her surfaced much more sympathetically in the Q&A session that constitutes the second half of the show. She listened carefully and respectfully to those with mental illness - including this bipolar critic - who made comments. I asked her whether if she could reinvent the universe, she would eliminate depression and depressives. She implied in her answer that there are no gains from this condition. To me, by contrast, a world without shadow would effectively rule out the sun.”

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

"The show begins rather flippantly and it's only gradually that, as the rawness increases, one senses how much is at stake here for Wax … Directed by Thea Sharrock, this certainly isn't a comedy show but what exactly is it - a mixture of pageant and polemic? The production's vaguely S&M aesthetic adds to the confusion. The relationship between Wax and Owen (whose vocal style is subtle) is a further source of puzzlement. Although their affinity is obvious, a lot of the time Wax puts Owen down, rather in the way that Dame Edna Everage used to bully her ‘constant companion’ Madge … For those directly affected by the issues Wax addresses, her story offers potent entertainment. And of course, we are all to some degree affected. Yet despite its caustic honesty, Losing It resorts too often to clichés and exhibitionism."

Stephanie Merritt

"It's now such a commonplace for anyone off the telly to do a stint in the Priory, rehab and psychiatric clinic to the stars, that we rarely stop to think about the story that led them there. Former inmate Ruby Wax first performed this show, a bittersweet history of her own breakdown peppered with insights from her recent studies in neuroscience, to an audience of fellow Priory patients, and has since toured it around mental health facilities before bringing this version, directed by Thea Sharrock, to London's Chocolate Factory. If that sounds dauntingly like group therapy, don't be put off … Mental illness, Wax asserts, grows from the confusion of having to live life without an instruction manual. Her solution is honesty, humour, self-acceptance - and medication."

Neil Norman
Daily Express

“This is a bit of a hybrid, mixing Wax's descent into depression with the lampooning of celebrity and British culture. Her sidekick is the Welsh pianist/ singer Judith Owen, who is a fellow sufferer and is even married to a one-time boyfriend of Wax's (American comic actor Harry Shearer who voices Mr Burns in The Simpsons). The pairing works less well when Owen is required to act as Wax's near-mute stooge but her songs, which punctuate Wax's wise-cracking act, are beautifully husky and pertinent. The characteristically brash and bullish Wax is still in evidence, which should keep her devotees happy and some lines are certainly witty and waspish.”

Libby Purves
The Times

"Hand on heart, I hoped for conversion … I wanted to like her show chronicling a bout of clinical depression and ongoing medication … Before the breakdown (well described) were 40 minutes of Polly Filla clichés about marriage, and a breezy account of the life she considers normal: a headlong pursuit of media fame, fuelled by the kind of envious vapidity which makes her rip up copies of Hello!, wanting more successful people to die. ‘We do not know how to live our lives,’ she cries. ‘We all just want to be richer, more famous’. Not all, dear … Claiming sympathy for her own pain, she mocks and derides other mothers and old people, and patronises schizophrenics with split-personality gags … If it was just a showbiz rant - think of Elaine Stritch or Arthur Smith brilliantly reliving their addictions - fine. But universally therapeutic it is not. Fans may laugh, the music is lovely if scarce, and if you knew nothing about depression, it might teach the basics. But if you have faced complex tragedies, be warned. It upset me, quite a lot."

Michael Billington

“Theatre can offer many things: entertainment, enlightenment, ecstasy. But this strange show is something else: theatre as therapy … You have to admire Wax's candour. She admits openly to her ambition, narcissism and rage. She is also sometimes very funny about the hoity-toity English, their obsession with the second world war and the inequity of our society … Wax's desire to crack wise and keep us amused cuts across her exploration of the depths of mental illness. It also struck me that her experience is too singular to offer much practical help to others … Although it's hard to criticise a show that many people find beneficial, it leaves me with a nagging question. Once we looked to the doctor, the priest, the philosopher or the artist for guidance on how to live. Is it a sign of progress that we now look to celebrities for validation of our suffering?”


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