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Joan Rivers

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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She’s bold, she’s sassy and she’s 75 years old. What more do you want? A great show, perhaps, but this is an interesting mix of stand-up and stand-off in sitcom. Joan Rivers may look like Ruby Wax made over as Nancy Reagan, with a sinister facelift touch of the Wildebeest woman, but she ain’t complaining, even if her mirror might.

The best thing is her vulgarity, though I rather miss her gag about the big white stain on her small black dress as an aftermath of a one-on-one interview with Bill Clinton. This was the woman who said that without her own bra she’d be kicking her own chest all the way to the bathroom.

Now, she’s kvetching about her reduced status on American chat show television and the confusion over sex in the over-sixties. Her first marriage failed, her television show was dropped, her second husband committed suicide. But, like Elaine Stritch in Company, she’s still here.

The new Leicester Square (formerly the Venue) producer Martin Witts has been clever enough to install really comfortable new seats from Poland - the place has a promising Eastern European arena/rave-up feel to it now - and to hire Sean Foley of the Right Size as Rivers’ director. Foley adds a funny new backstage element of rivalry, understudy-ism and agent provocateur. Dammit, he nearly turns the show into a play of some kind.

Will Joan make it to the Oscars? Does it matter if she doesn’t? It’s not a cliff-hanger, exactly, but it does allow for a wonderful half-serious exploration of notions of seniority in showbiz, bitchy takes on Judi Dench and Joan Crawford, and getting her own back on Johnny Carson.

She’s a brilliantly funny clown, supported here by Emily Koskoski as her stooge, Carrie Paff as a semi-romantic rival and Nathan Osgood as her co-producer. Her unseen daughter Melissa features, too; boy, what a pain in the butt she sounds. They’re all good and dutifully conspiratorial.

Rivers plays tantalisingly with the idea of show business celebrity on the wane, seen from a viewpoint of both cynical detachment and eagerness to sign up once more. The event is billed as a work in progress by a life in progress. Where next? Who cares? I was happy enough to be stalled in the stalls for an hour and a half with radiant Rivers in full flood.

- Michael Coveney


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