Ruby Wax in Sane New World
Director: Joanna Bowen
Cast: Ruby Wax
Venue: Theatre on the Bay.
Until: February 15
Rating: ***


Defining a Ruby Wax show is something of a challenge, since this dynamic performer has created a genre all her own – a unique amalgam of stand-up comedy, personal confession and didactic exercise to enhance the mental health of her audience.

The result is highly entertaining for the first half of the show, and unpredictable for the second, when the audience takes over to question Wax on material presented before the interval. As is often the case, theatre patrons do not necessarily co-operate by sticking to the point, and the issues they raise are either frivolous or irrelevant, which is hardly Wax’s fault.

Sane New World is a completely new Wax show, investigating ways to find sanity in order to deal with the stresses and strains of modern living.

Wax’s no-nonsense approach to the subject is reflected in her casual attire and unhurried moves around the stage as she shares anecdotes and words of wisdom with her audience, sometimes perched atop a table sipping a mug of tea, sometimes bouncing gently on a Pilates ball at centre stage.

The contrast between her Elizabeth Taylor-like good looks and emphatically unflattering garments is, like her personality, piquant. She cultivates a “what you see is what I am, take it or leave it” attitude – but there is no bravado or aggression in her manner when addressing the audience; rather, she gives the impression of making the latter her confidante. And some of her confidences are hilarious, like her childhood aspiration to be a mermaid, or her impression of Bill Gates, whom she interviewed in the course of her career in television, describing him as “a block of cement with dandruff”.

An unrelieved monologue of nearly an hour, however witty, carries the risk of tedium, so Wax periodically introduces back- drop projections, for example to illustrate the functioning of the human brain, or the various drugs available to counteract mental stress.

Jokes apart, her dialogue evinces a tough realism when she discusses techniques for taming the mind, rewiring thinking, and generally avoiding the all-too-common pitfalls that sabotage our sanity. This is, after all, the material of her Master’s degree from Oxford in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.

What could easily be a dry academic lecture on mental health, of limited interest to the average listener, becomes an absorbing exposé of the recommended journey to greater sanity, in language the layman can understand. As Wax is at pains to point out, this is for everyone, “because we all share the same equipment, we suffer, we laugh... we’re all delicate creatures under our tough fronts.”

This inclusiveness, together with sensible advice seasoned with wit, accounts for the enduring popularity of Ruby Wax.