Sandra Bernhard: Without You I'm Nothing, Leicester Square Theatre, London
Big mouth strikes again
Thursday 28 May 2009
"No one speaks of pavilions anymore and that truly saddens me," remarks Sandra Bernhard in a moment of almost genuine wistfulness. If New York's doyenne of disdain, a self-styled sorceress of sarcasm was thinking of Worthing Pavilion, where she played last October, it's perhaps just as well. Fortunately for her adoring London audience her refreshed take on her 1988 show, Without You I'm Nothing, is a notch above that disastrous adventure in divadom.
You have to admire the tenacity of Bernhard, an unholy mix of actress, singer, comedian, agent provocateur and renegade "It" girl, and you have also to acknowledge the durability of Without You I'm Nothing, re-released as an album, as a film and here on stage. Bernhard knows a thing or two about staging an Eighties revival.
There is additional material, however, including a running gag about Twittering live on stage. The show is not dated: Bernhard would still choose to eulogise Stevie Nicks as she does in the section "The Women of Rock 'n'Roll", with a story of how the two bond one night and become eternal friends, but with the payoff that Bernhard hasn't heard from the rock icon in six months. Luckily, to compensate, Bernhard's life drips with celebrity. It's more name-unloading than dropping as she brings forth a coterie of US stars in an apocryphal celebration where Bernhard's former sparring partner and once-rumoured lover, Madonna, can be heard shouting at her kids, "you have to learn to share!"
When not picking over celebrity and fashion, Bernhard lets us into her family life with her partner, Sara Switzer, and 10-year-old daughter, Cicely. "What kind of animal puts waterproof mascara on a child?" she shrieks, in Jewish-mother mode, after Cicely returns from a party. Luckily, Bernhard tells us, Switzer has a surefire way of dealing with her moods.
For an audience, these moods can still be a little disconcerting. When the 53-year-old comic belts out the lyric, "and don't you bring me down today" from Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful", it's more of a threat than a request.
But surely it's much better to be feisty than a blonde called Babe with a brother called Chip? This is the WASP scenario that Bernhard imagines as an alternative to her own "intellectual" upbringing, insulating her from the divorce that split her family up. "My father was a proctologist and my mother was an abstract artist, so that's how I view the world," says Bernhard in one of the oft-quoted lines from the show.
Certainly, Bernhard pushes world-weariness to its limit and the value of this devaluation has waned since the Eighties. But, like the decade itself, you still can't quite shake her off.
To 5 June (0844 847 2475; www.leicestersquaretheatre.com)
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