American-born and British-favourite comedian Ruby Wax has worn so many hats during her professional career — actor, script editor, writer, mental health advocate, interviewer, lecturer — it’s never entirely clear what you can expect from one of her one-woman shows.
Wax has never been entirely satisfied to just do the regular stand-up thing, and her newest show Frazzled is certainly not that. It’s one part autobiographical stand-up, one part Q&A, one part lecture, and one part practical guide to mindfulness.
What many of her fans might not know is that Wax has a masters degree in cognitive-based mindfulness therapy from Oxford University. She enrolled in the course after struggling with mental illness for most of her life, hoping to gain a better understanding of brain science and wondered what mindfulness could offer her that therapy and medication could not.
This show is based on Wax’s 2016 book, A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled. Wax contends that we’re all frazzled — that feeling that you have just a few too many browser windows open in the PC of your mind and things are getting a little overheated. She guides her audience through the role of cortisol in responding to stressful situations and techniques to reduce our levels of the hormone, more of which are available in her book. (And, of course, she sells and signs copies of the book after the show.)
There’s no escaping the fact that the format of this show is a little bit clunky, and it’s especially odd to be learning about mindfulness with several hundred other people at a Ruby Wax show and then be told that it’s “not for everybody”. But even if you’re not sold on the application of mindfulness to your own life, it’s interesting to learn more about a form of behavioural therapy that’s proven very popular in the west in recent years and produced strong results for some people.
Wax, who was script editor on the legendary British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, knows a thing or two about structure, and manages to mostly smooth over the cracks between the parts of this show that feel like a seminar and the parts that feel like stand-up.
As you’d expect, many of her one-liners are hysterically funny, thanks to her wry, almost absurd observations on life — when she first moved to England people barely brushed their teeth, now they all spend half their lives in a gym in a desperate attempt to grow breasts on their arms.
Some of the gags are a little lazy — brainless Kardashian jokes have become a little bit stale — but her delivery gets them across the line.
The Sydney show ended with an extensive Q&A session in which Wax answered audience questions on mindfulness, her life, politics, and whatever other subjects were thrown at her. This section proved to be just as entertaining as any of the scripted parts, with Wax an engaging, engaged and thoughtful conversationalist.
Frazzled might not quite be Wax’s finest moment as a live act, but she has an irresistible charisma and fans will lap up any chance to hear her observations put across in the classic Wax wit.