I’ve seen most of the comedians who had an impact on my burgeoning enjoyment of comedy in a live setting – I saw Ben Elton while he was still funny, I saw Rik & Ade doing Bottom on stage, I saw Newman & Baddiel (although not in the notorious Wembley gigs), I saw Steve Coogan doing Alan Partridge live (hearing him ad lib in character is a delight), to name a few. Yet I hadn’t seen Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders doing a live show.
French and Saunders, dubbed the godmothers of alternative comedy, were the first female comedians to impact on my consciousness. Part of The Comic Strip Presents, appearing in The Young Ones, and doing their much-loved sketch show, French & Saunders. They might have become more populist than their alternative roots would dictate, Jennifer with Absolutely Fabulous and Dawn with The Vicar of Dibley (can’t say I was a big fan of the latter), but the important thing was they were funny – the spoofs on film/television/popular music may have become an albatross around their necks, but only because they were funny in the first place. Therefore, when they brought their ‘not a farewell tour’ show to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, it was time to cross them off my list.
Firstly, I would recommend the Theatre Royal – it is a very large and very nice theatre, spacious and comfortable. Also, the box we had was almost as big as our bedroom – the room outside it had more space and chairs for relaxing in the interval. And, because there are hardly any other people going to boxes, the pre-show ambiance is quiet and pleasant. I don’t think we could go back to sitting in the stalls …
Jennifer and Dawn came on to huge applause – their populist status was in no doubt – and the show was a mix of pre-filmed pieces, old sketches and new pieces. For performers used to the luxury of television to get it right, they were very well-oiled in their routines, which involve a lot of talking over each other, their faux-bickering and monologues. They also made plenty of jokes at each other’s expense – boasting about whose show was more impressive or more popular, at one stage bringing on a giant vicar of Dibley to demonstrate the point.
They did one of their classic routines about contraception, as well as some of their popular characters. Jennifer did her Madonna bit (Jennifer and Dawn are the same age as Madonna) and Dawn did a hilarious pre-taped Catherine Zeta Jones piece. They also did a version of the original sketch that was the inspiration for Ab Fab. They even did a song and dance bit at the end. The biggest laughs were for the ‘encore’ routine of the two old men, who urinate on a wall and then both turn around with their trousers still undone, with fake yet realistic-looking genitals flapping about. The audience, who consisted mostly of older women (including Alison Moyet and Ruby Wax), were screaming with laughter.
Was the show ground-breaking? No. Was it alternative comedy? No. But was it funny? Yes. Nearly two hours of funny sketches performed by funny people, it was a delight to be entertained by two women who knew what they were doing and doing it well. It was great to see the bickering in the flesh, especially as we were so close to the action in the box (the one we were in isn’t usually open for shows because they are covered with lighting, but they were available for use for this show), with Dawn doing her over-the-top thing and Jennifer being more controlled. Entertaining and celebratory, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.