Until about half an hour in, Dawn French’s ‘bio play’ 30 Million Minutes reveals more about its director Michael Grandage than it does about the 56-year-old comedian.
Framed by a set that puts one in mind of looking from the inside of a television out, the star of the small screen takes a theatrical tack as she tries to draw us in to a highly stylised account of her life so far.
French’s energy and delivery are initially more fairground huxter than her usual excitable schoolgirl. Was this really Dawn? The family photographs projected on the screen behind her were genuine, the stories too, yet this affected monologue had scant room for warm asides.
Grandage’s interplay between visuals and performer starts to heat up when French explores a number of difficult personal issues, including the failure of her IVF treatment. From this point on French is free to explore her life with some abandon.
A sequence follows where numerous newspaper headlines relating to her size are projected in quick succession, ending on Anne Diamond’s prurience about whether French’s weight loss was down to a gastric band.
Introduced as a race against time and middle age, the show here feels more like a rage against the machine. It’s a feeling that returns in the second half when French mentions her unofficial biographer, Alison Bowyer, and the uninvited contact she made with the parents of her adopted daughter, Billie. “The right to bully my daughter belongs exclusively to me” remarks French, clearly hacked off.
French’s professional life is only ever alluded to, with mentions of “fatty Saunders” and a quick picture montage of her friends (including Rik Mayall) and a brief reflection on her marriage to Lenny Henry. It’s French’s life force, rather than her celebrity that is under the spotlight here.
Though the show tries to capture that force with a somewhat abrupt attempt at a feelgood finale, one that struggles to encapsulate the fearless retelling of some very difficult moments, for the most part this 120 minute trip journey through French’s life is time well spent.