The title of Dawn French’s first one woman show, 30 Million Minutes, is approximately how long the 56 year old comedian and actress has been alive. I have adored her for approximately half that time. This October 2016 she is performing her one woman show at the Vaudeville Theatre, London.
I have been fortunate enough to meet my hero twice and found her to be friendly, charming and encouraging of my fledgling comedy career. Her personal life has been in and out of the press but she told her own story with her autobiography Dear Fatty a few years ago.
‘Fatty’ is the nickname she affectionately uses for Jennifer Saunders (whom I was informed sneaked into the show when audience had settled!) Those expecting a show full of sketches, stand up and clips would be disappointed as this was a tightly scripted live version of highlights from Dawn’s ‘minutes’ against a plain black set.
A smidge of colour came from her fun outfit of black frilly dress and a big screen to show family photos and diagrams as we found out about her childhood growing up in a loving family who moved around a lot to fit in with her dad’s RAF career.
She spoke lovingly of her family with some hilarious anecdotes about her two grans (one good, one evil) and a particularly astounding film of a young Dawn meeting the Queen Mother and recoiling in horror at the black toothed smile from the regal old dear!
I was expecting to be moved during Dawn’s account of her father’s death as I had learned of the tragedy in her autobiography. This part was an audio clip of Dawn, rather than spoken live by the comedy star, with photos and dimmed lights. It was handled beautifully, you could hear a pin drop as well as a few tears and gasps from the crowd. A few moments of personal stories drew this reaction. Dawn displayed brave honesty with humour and warmth.
There were several spontaneous rounds of applause especially when she recounted the speech her father gave to her when aged 14, which gave her a “coat of armour” of confidence that she has carried ever since. This armour has helped her through times of press intrusion, weight criticism, marriage breakdown and ill health.
Sections entitled ‘How do you be… a Person/a Woman/a Parent/a Wife/Single’ were an effective way of introducing the topics Dawn wanted to explore and she didn’t hold back her bile for certain journalists that have been unkind and intrusive. All were presented with humour, truth and raised big laughs.
The show may not have been what some people were expecting but as soon as she walked onto the stage the pure love we felt for this beautiful, strong and effortlessly funny lady was as obvious as her magnificent chest (or “Ant and Dec” as she referred to them!) and I was left wanting more. But I believe she gave all she had and through her stories and life lessons we could all walk a little taller after seeing his inspiring and empowering show.
A few titters at local references made us feel special as if she was ours. As the giant clock ticked the minutes away to the climax of the show she instructed us all to live every minute and that we are all amazing. A standing ovation from the Plymouth crowd left us all in no doubt that Dawn is indeed a local legend as well as huge star. We adore her for it.
Rating – 30 million stars