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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Joan Rivers - A Work In Progress By A Life In Progress
Leicester Square Theatre Autumn 2008

The acerbic American comic Joan Rivers appears here in a scripted show (written by herself, Douglas Bernstein and Denis Markell) providing a fictional frame for her to talk about her own life and career. The evening is 99% Rivers, so if you like her you'll have a ball, and if you don't, you'll know enough to stay away.

There's a plot of sorts, involving the dressing room preparations for Rivers' annual TV appearance interviewing celebrities as they arrive for the Oscar awards. A supporting cast help keep that story moving, though they spend most of their time in freeze-frame as the script has her constantly interrupting the action to address the audience directly with her memoirs, taking us from her first attempts as an actress - she claims her first job was a lesbian scene with the young Barbra Streisand - through the years as a struggling stand-up comic to the ups and downs thereafter.

It goes without saying that Rivers holds the stage with authority and has an audience of her fans (as any audience for this show will be) in the palm of her hand throughout.

At a wild guess, I'd say her monologue sequences are 80% scripted and 20% ad libbed, and there are enough politically incorrect one-liners and enough of her trademark bitchiness - about Streisand, Tom Cruise, Elaine Paige and Victoria Beckham among others - to satisfy the fans and maybe make some converts.

But there are also some serious and quite touching sequences, about being championed by American chat show legend Johnny Carson and then suddenly dropped and blacklisted, about befriending an aged and lonely Mae West, about watching her husband cope and then fail to cope with being Mr. Joan Rivers, and about repeatedly picking herself up and recreating herself after each setback so that she's still going strong at an admitted 75.

So those who come expecting an evening of Joan Rivers comedy will get a full measure, but something more as well, and may come away with a new - or renewed - respect for the feisty old broad.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Joan Rivers - Leicester Square 200