Friday, 27 November 2015

Dawn French: Thirty Million Minutes

Dawn French surprises in her hilarious and emotional one-woman ride through the many minutes of her life

Written by Georgina Brown
Georgina-Brown-colour-176Dawn French has called her fearlessly frank, feisty, delicious – sometimes devastating – solo show Thirty Million Minutes partly because, give or take a few thousand, that’s how many make up her 58 years, but also because ‘every little minute that we have makes a big life in the end and every minute counts’.

In the course of another 120 of them, Dawn – a captivating, roly-poly Cleopatra in a minidress with diagonal rippling flounces and sturdy boots – reflects on how to be a person/ daughter/wife/mother/single again. She begins at the very beginning. There she is, born with scarlet fever, frighteningly blotchy, and there’s cheeky older brother, Gary, her lovely mum and dad, all beaming from the many grainy, gloriously atmospheric photographs stolen from the family albums. Later, she is seen with husband Lenny Henry, gurgling over their adopted baby Billie, and then, after marrying for a second time, she is seen with the new family that comes from being a very happy Mrs D Bignall.

In a wonderful bit of vintage news footage, the Queen Mother comes to tea with the Dawn Mother and the Dawn Father at the RAF base in Yorkshire where he is a sergeant. Three-year-old Dawn’s face falls when there’s no crown, just a haze of lilac frou-frou. Worse comes with the smile. Virtually black teeth. Devastated Dawn cannot bear to look. The Queen Mother is quite obviously a Queen Witch.

Aside from this, Dawn’s childhood was golden: ballet, roller-skating, crushes on David Cassidy, Nana Mouskouri and Eric Morecambe, chocolate limes, her mum’s stew, a dad she lionised (‘To me that wasn’t a cap. It was a crown worn by the king of our family’), who became her personal dolphin on seaside holidays, and whose sudden suicide, when she was 19, still makes her cry.

All she ever wanted to be was a ballet-dancer, a bridesmaid and a pop star. Cue Dawn on guitar, lip-synching A Whiter Shade Of Pale against a pulsating psychedelic background.

In one of many tear-jerking moments, she recalls getting ready to go out, an anxious, unkissed teenager, bulging out of (size large) purple suede hotpants. ‘You’re a corker; you’re a prize,’ says her dream dad. ‘He gave me armour,’ she says. And she has needed it, not least to protect herself from the beastly things journalists have written about her body’s ins and outs and ups and downs.

For, in spite of having no neck, failing to produce a baby, a cancer-scare resulting in a hysterectomy, Dawn is very much on speaking terms with said body. She calls her breasts Ant and Dec because they are such show-offs and marvels at the skill with which her ‘cocktail sausage’ fingers can pop chocolate into her mouth. She’s a life-embracer and bouncy brilliant company. Go.

Until 9 December at the Vaudeville Theatre, London WC2: 0844-482 9675,

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