Underbelly George Square
Ruby Wax needs no introduction, and if you’re thinking Ruby who? You are far too young for your own good.
Having been an avid fan of The Ruby Wax show and Ruby Wax Meets from my younger days, I was thrilled to see her new Fringe show Frazzled, at the Underbelly George Square. The queue extended a good half-mile long spilling out on to the cobbled street beyond the fake grass boundary. This tiny Queen of Comedy with the big personality can still draw the crowds – all 3 nights were sold out.
Ruby came bouncing on to the stage full of joie de vivre and the air crackled with energy. The name of her show is also the title of her latest book Frazzled, an accessible book on mindfulness and applying it to the everyday.
She tells us that Frazzled is a show for everyone, not just the one-in-four with mental health issues. ‘My people’ she says, surveying the audience ‘You know who you are, and so do I.’ she points out every fourth person in the front row which wins a nervous ripple of laughter.
The show loosely takes the format of Wax interviewing herself, asking and answering various questions related to the mind. One question is ‘Who is the critical voice inside your head?’ Straight away she tells us it’s her mother, saying without a doubt, she’s the reason Ruby Wax is crazy. She then gets up from her armchair to demonstrate her mother shouting at the television in a stilted Viennese accent. Her mother also had an obsession with crumbs and dust and would do all manner of eccentric things. She once visited Ruby in London and started cleaning the leaves of plants outside her door, and insisting she buy a real ‘bwwroom’ to sweep with.
Wax treats the audience as visitors to her own sitting room, so natural and intimate is her delivery. That’s one of the things I have always liked about her. She talks and interacts with her audience, and people just go along with it. At one point she asked us if we wanted to experience mindfulness. There was a collective ‘Yes.’
So she had everyone clap their hands once, then sit and observe the sensation in their hands afterwards. She talked about the tingling we might feel in our fingers and told us just to focus on our sense of touch. When we finished she quipped ‘That’s not mindfulness.’
She delighted in duping us but she did do a proper mindfulness exercise with everyone later in the show. Apart from those moments, the show was fast-moving and unpredictable. To demonstrate how she keeps in shape, she borrowed an overnight bag from a woman in the audience, and did some weight-lifting and arm exercises with it to a backdrop of hilarity. To the woman’s great embarrassment, she took a peek inside the bag, showing the contents to the audience.
The show is comedy but there is an important message behind the humour. Wax has been open about her experience with bipolar and related depression and by creating comedy around it, she is doing more to tackle stigma than any of those See Me adverts or endless Mind campaigns.