When to Wax lyrical

Ruby Wax | Theatre Royal, Brighton
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The Independent Culture

Ruby Wax once managed to persuade the one-time murder suspect OJ Simpson to stab someone with a banana; she has rummaged through the Duchess of York's knicker drawer and poked around Imelda Marcos's shoe cupboard. In short, she has made a career our of plundering people's private lives, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before she turned her attention to herself.

Ruby Wax once managed to persuade the one-time murder suspect OJ Simpson to stab someone with a banana; she has rummaged through the Duchess of York's knicker drawer and poked around Imelda Marcos's shoe cupboard. In short, she has made a career our of plundering people's private lives, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before she turned her attention to herself.

Stressed is a one-woman show that steels down the corridors of Wax's mind, unearthing childhood traumas and wallowing in her neuroses. We hear about the Austrian parvenu parents who brought her up in suburban Chicago ("my mother attempted a tummy tuck in her eighth month of pregnancy"), the Scottish drama college, and her short tenure with the RSC.

Her tales, particularly those about her mother ("She blocked the sunlight out of our house so that it didn't eat up the furniture. You would have to feel your way around"), are related with a real sense of astonishment. Her horror of shop assistants - "We will fight them on the beaches, we will fight those bitches in the shops" - reveals a self-loathing that extends far beyond the size of her behind.

That said, Wax's portrayal of herself as a woman on the edge of crisis doesn't always ring true. You imagine that her attempt at rebirthing - that's climbing into a flotation tank and introducing yourself to your inner child - had more to do with her love of the ridiculous than her psychological unease.

She is as manic as you would expect, all wild gestures and mile-a-minute chatter (she must have to write twice the amount of material than the average comedian). In some ways it's conventional stuff. The line "Do you know what pisses me off?" has served as an introduction for the gripes of myriad comedians. But Wax pushes her complaints beyond the boundaries of good taste. Her fixation with bodily functions shows no signs of diminishing, ditto her distrust of pubic hair: "Yoko Ono? I've seen pictures of her naked and, believe me, that woman is a rug."

It is a relief, though, when she stops talking about herself. Wax is at her best when picking holes in the world of celebrity. Recounting her time as a reporter at Paris Fashion Week, she cries: "Have you actually seen Tommy Hilfiger? It's like someone has taken a pair of fish hooks and stretched his face. He is a 71-year-old halibut." On Nancy Reagan: "Is it a vagina or a mouth? I don't know." It's stomach-churning stuff, but it's when Wax is at her bitchiest that she is truly brilliant.

Ruby Wax plays Kings Lynn tonight, tours to 10 Nov and comes to the Tricycle Theatre, London, 13 Nov to 2 Dec

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