Review – Ruby Wax and Judith Owen Losing It, Menier Chocolate Factory, February 27th 2011

Losing ItI didn’t know that Ruby Wax suffered from mental ill health, although it had occurred to me we hadn’t seen her on TV much recently. In fact, I can’t remember seeing her since her superb rendition of Avril Lavergne’s Skater Boi on Comic Relief Does Fame Academy (or is it vice versa?) Anyway, although I didn’t get much of a sense of the time scale of when her decline in mental health occurred, she does give a very lively and thoughtful account of what it’s all about.

Accompanied by her friend and fellow sufferer Judith Owen at the keyboard, Ruby gives us an emotional, funny, thought-provoking and also very sad account of what it’s like to have depression. With her usual irreverent style it comes across as a very active lecture more than a show/play/theatrical experience; and although it feels quite free-formed it must actually be scripted to the nth degree because of the seamless way Judith Owen’s musical accompaniments add a background to her story. The music reflects the mood and enhances it; and even when Judith is not playing she is acting as a foil to some of Ruby’s more caustic moments.

Ruby Wax For me the most illuminating moment was her explaining why being told simply to “perk up” doesn’t work. She said it would work if you had two brains. The working brain would be able to tell the sick brain to pull itself together. But when you only have one brain, and it’s not working properly, this is not an option. Simply put, but very revealing.

After the interval there is a question and answer session. I had thought in advance about what I might ask, if the opportunity arose and the moment felt right. As it happened, many other people had prepared loads of questions and it seemed to me that each questioner was either a fellow sufferer or very closely related to one. I sensed that they all had gained a great deal of comfort from the show and recognised their own plights within it. So I am very glad I didn’t end up asking the inane and stupid questions that I had prepared.

Judith Owen This show makes one question oneself. I sat there wondering if I had any form of mental instability. I decided that I don’t think I do. Mrs Chrisparkle was wondering the same and came up with the same conclusion (about her – history doesn’t relate what she thinks of me). But there was a question in the second half from a woman whose account of her own situation made me recognise a behavioural pattern in myself which made me wonder… Just because one doesn’t suffer from depression now, you never know what’s around the corner. Of course the Q&A session will never be the same from one show to the next, so this is a potentially explosive situation. One surprise was that one of the questioners adopted a very hostile tone, which I think startled everyone, including the two on stage. There was a lot of loud tutting and intakes of breath from the audience, and I think if he hadn’t stopped his line of questioning, there was going to be an organised lynch-mob awaiting him on the way out!

So all in all a thought-provoking and very interesting couple of hours. I think it might have a greater effect on you if you are a sufferer yourself; but for a non-sufferer it was still revealing and informative and you do come away from the experience wiser as well as entertained. Oh, and one other thing – Judith Owen has a stunning voice!