On her last visit to London, 19 years ago, Rita Rudner appeared in the Royal Variety Show at the Dominion Theatre. Tonight, she played the more modest, 420-seater, Leicester Square Theatre. However, the American has not lost her lustre and in-between time has become Las Vegas's most successful comedians.
With no obvious reason to leave her Nevada nirvana, the 57-year-old's appearance in the UK must have less to do with belatedly widening her fanbase and more to do with fact her husband, Martin Bergman is English. After meeting Bergman, Rudner was a UK fixture for a while. She starred in her own BBC2 series with Morwenna Banks who was in the audience tonight along with her husband, David Baddiel, Clive Anderson, Jerry Sadowitz and Arnold Brown.
Even such esteemed company could not help fill this small venue up to the two-thirds marker, but, Rudner, attired in a red cocktail dress, still played the room as if it was Vegas. "We have a ballet company now you know," she remarks, extolling the virtues of her home, before adding, "it's topless but it's ballet." A former dancer herself, Rudner has long since exhibited some exquisite and sublime leaps of the lyrical kind. "Accept someone for who they are and then pretend they are someone else."
Despite the delicious one-liners, many of which come from the tension between a woman's material needs and men's relative simplicity ("Every time I buy something I have to get rid of something; so I have had to throw a lot of my husband's stuff away") there's a disconnect at work with Rudner's act. One-liner merchants always struggle with giving their persona depth and Rudner is no exception. Her pursed delivery, which emphasises the sub-clause of joke as much as the punch line, is precise and while her material on her relationship with her husband looks it might layer her persona she is, in the nicest, most professional way, a consummate machine.
Steven Wright had a stoner persona, Jimmy Carr has posh-boy chic and even these well-known guises have struggled to sustain full shows. Rudner's intelligent princess character is even less formed, at least tonight, and while her gags still resonate her old-school style, albeit engaging enough for Vegas, seems not to have dated or travelled quite so well over here.
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