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She’s best known for her roly-poly jolly girl schtick, but when bubbly comedian Dawn French brings the one-woman show about her life to Kent she’ll present both the ups and the downs.
Now halfway through her tour across the UK, you may well have read the reviews of Dawn French’s first ever solo show with a raised eyebrow.
The comedian has previously presented a public persona built on big girl bonhomie, exaggerated for her parts in sketch show French and Saunders and beloved TV comedy The Vicar of Dibley.
So critics have been surprised that this show is not stand-up but mixes her trademark humour with searing honesty about her life, including painful episodes such as the sudden death of her father and infertility.
It’s this level of intimacy and the sharing of tears and laughter that has seen audiences giving standing ovations and critics, though surprised, praising Dawn’s brave new direction.
“It’s not a stand-up show. It’s not a play. I guess it is a monologue because it’s just me talking,” Dawn said of the show, called 30 Million Minutes (at age 56, this is roughly the amount of time that she reckons she’s been alive).
“It’s a slide show to an extent, but it’s not like your awful, most feared auntie who’s just come back from Egypt where you have to sit and watch everything. It’s quite autobiographical, so I show you the people that have made me. There’s quite a lot about my mum and dad.”
Her father Denys, who was a RAF pilot, is the one she credits with her abounding confidence, and she points to a key moment in her youth when she was leaving for a party wearing hot pants and a conversation that ensued with her father.
“I’ve always been a big girl and shouldn’t really have been wearing hot pants.
“He told me I was completely beautiful and how amazing I looked in them and that I would get loads of attention. So my dad gave me a sort of telling off that was about totally infusing me with confidence and I went on cloud nine to this party and I’ve actually never left that party.”
Dawn’s has been a bumpy ride through life though. Unknown to Dawn, her father had suffered from depression and took his own life when she was 19, which is dealt with as a key moment in the show.
“This was in a time when you didn’t say you had mental illness if you were the head of a family. I still have sadness about it. Massive sadness. And I think it’s been a centre point of my life, what happened with my dad,” she added.
While the serious sides of the show are present, there is also much of her lightness and humour that the public know and love.
This is evident off-stage too, as Dawn frequently jokes about her beloved chocolate and food. She said: “It’s a lovely thing to do. We love tasting things. You don’t get to be spherical without liking eating things.”
Dawn shares with her crowd that she has a continuing ‘great’ relationship with ex-husband Lenny Henry and talks about her marriage to her second husband, Mark Bignell, which brings us up to date on her 30 Million Minutes so far.
“It’s so new. It’s completely thrilling. It’s almost too delightful. I could almost burst with it,” said Dawn, in a hint at the happy ending she shares on-stage.
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