Vaudeville Theatre, London. Saturday 22nd October, 2016.
30 Million Minutes was something between a beautifully motivational speech and a seat at French’s coffee table, gifted with extended autobiographical narratives; it was Dawn French laying bare some of the key, defining moments of her 30 Million Minutes of life to date, in her characteristically engaging and relatable manner. The shared moments spanned a lifetime and a wide array of topics and relationships via a ‘How do you be a …’ motif. French came across as honest, relatable and very warm; and yes, she was of course, very funny. It wasn’t laugh-a-minute and it certainly was not text book stand-up, but what was offered instead was thoroughly entertaining and fascinating.
Naturally, in telling her tales, French did treat us to some of her brilliant, famously comical physicality and her equally well known phrases and choice terms (norks/ growler/ tossers) – moments which could only be so funny when provided with French’s delivery. I saw the ‘Still Alive’ tour with Jennifer Saunders in 2008 and there was a distinct difference between that version of Dawn French and this. ’30 Million Minutes’ was about the private rather than the public, famous self and I got the impression that this show was partly about French taking ownership of her own story, dispelling all the myths written about her with hugely entertaining honesty and proud fearlessness. At times, the performance was incredibly moving, particularly as French treated the whole thing as a bit of a chin-wag in the almost intimate setting of the Vaudeville Theatre. We had great seats, in B row, but I should imagine that most of the audience felt the sense of closeness to the legend on stage, whom many will have adored for years from the viewing comfort of their sofas.
The snippets of French’s millions of minutes ranged from the outrageous (Mum segment) to the hilarious (grannies/ Queen Mother segments) to the adorable and fiery (daughter segment) to the shocking and tear-jerkingly moving (first husband segment) to the defiant and brutal (body segment) and the downright heartbreaking (father segment). It was a fresh look at the star; a woman responsible for her own emancipation from the bullying of the tabloids, immoral reporters and her own self-doubt. Here was a fearless and reflective woman sharing, with no inhibitions, both surprising and fascinating details with a select few hundred/ thousand privileged strangers. I found it inspiring to listen to her speak about the things she was unfairly forced to face and how she took ownership, taking aim at some of the offenders in a powerful display of that infamous chutzpah which accompanies the turning point at a certain age in a person’s life.
I thoroughly enjoyed ’30 Million Minutes’; I enjoyed the sense of privilege and the opportunity to hear, first-hand, all about some of the most important developmental stages of French’s journey through childhood to now, as she stood before us as an unapologetic, gloriously audacious woman who, quite frankly, is one of the best possible role models of young girls and women today. I strongly suggest that French consider taking segments of this into schools; the charismatic, funny delivery and the powerful messages contained in the body image/ tabloid segments in particular would be incredibly influential for teens in their most impressionable years. I’d absolutely love to see my students given the opportunity to listen to her (possibly with some revisions to the language used!)
’30 Million Minutes’ has departed theatre land now, but as there was filming in progress at the performance I attended, I assume that a TV special or DVD will soon follow, so I do recommend that you invest. I’ll certainly be buying a copy.