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 The Theatreguide.London Review


My Brilliant Divorce
Apollo Theatre Spring 2003

Geraldine Aron's new monologue play is a welcome vehicle for performer Dawn French, though the script itself is not very strong, and it is the actress and the inventive staging that carry the evening.

To get the weaknesses out of the way first, if the adventures of a 40-something divorcee strike you as familiar comic and soap opera territory, that's just the beginning. There is hardly an element or plot turn in the script that you haven't heard a hundred times before, as the heroine goes through shock, depression, fantasies of reconciliation,  fantasies of revenge, disastrous attempts at dating, and the like.

Even most of the jokes seem recycled - Phyllis Diller was doing some of this self-depreciating and husband-bashing material almost 40 years ago. Indeed, the similarity to a typical female comic's stand-up routine is so striking that you are very aware of the absence of a microphone.

Which is not to say that some of comic material doesn't score. A Samaritans-like help line for People Experiencing Suicidal Thoughts, or PESTs, is a neat idea, and the heroine's visit to a sex shop in search of a vibrator is funny. But even that is an old idea done well, rather than anything new.

Meanwhile, the only real psychological insight the script offers is that the woman's depression goes on far longer - three years - than you might expect, and that she doesn't really make many real efforts to adjust and move on. You begin to wonder if the character is more like a woman of the 1950s than of a half-century later.

But - and this is a big and saving but - almost all these flaws are skated over by Dawn French's delightful performance. Like Alan Davies in the similarly gag-structured Auntie and Me, she is a polished and experienced  comic actor, and knows both how to deliver each line to full effect and how to sustain the rhythm and comic level of the extended monologue.

Only about a woman of her size would one feel the need to comment that she moves with grace and ease, but the fact is that the character's bounciness even in the face of despair is a key part of her psychology and our identification with her. French is also a marvellous facial actress, able to milk every laugh out of a line with an appropriate (and never excessive) bit of mugging or just a baleful look.

So very much is French the comic backbone of the show that you could wish she had written her own material, which might well have been more pointed and more consistently funny than the script she carries over its weak stretches. Much credit - also for carrying the script and going a long way toward disguising its fragility - goes to director Garry Hynes and designer Francis O'Connor, who provide just enough visual razzle-dazzle to entertain without overpowering.

Is it a fun evening? Certainly, but in the same way watching Dawn French in a comedy club would be. French doesn't play comedy clubs any more, and she is here in the West End, and so we can thank Geraldine Aron for providing the occasion.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - My Brilliant Divorce - Apollo 2003