After a little faffing around and warming-up, they gave us, among much else, costume comedy (they walked on in bust-high pants), by way of pretty tragic, throwaway Maddie and Abba parodies (including a filmed sequence featuring Joanna Lumley); a nigh-on slapstick doctor-patient sketch; a pretty mindless take on the Collins sisters. All lukewarm. But they hit the high-water mark with their pre-teen girls, at a bus-stop, discussing the facts of life, with Dawn as the, ahem, worldly tutor. This reflected their most inventive, edgy selves. To 'ave it off, as Dawn's character explained, one must first go to one's parents' bedroom and line the bed, floor, walls and more with towels. This is what's known as contraception. From here, incorrect & exaggerated anatomical details and reproductive misinformation carry the sketch to ridiculous and correspondingly hilarious conclusion. Coincidentally or, perhaps, not, one of the other high points also involved teenage girls, left behind, at Christmas, at boarding-school, where they'd resided, respectively, since the age of one, and four. It was so well-played, it was almost poignant, as well as outrageously funny. Like the former, it had just the right rhythm, was just the right length and unfurled superbly. A truly great piece of writing and performance.
The original sketch, from F & S, which went on to become the iconic hit, Abfab, was played-out, to the apparent satisfaction of the crowd. But playing to the crowd and trotting-out tried-and-tested material isn't the stuff of thrilling live comedy. Save it for a 'greatest hits' dvd. Having said that, I'll immediately contradict myself, as there's one sketch I couldn't have done without: Jim & Jim. In case you don't know them, they're two repulsive, aging, bloated, balding, perverted couch potatoes, who've a penchant for 'she's begging for it' remarks and lewd gestures. Hell, they're just like a couple of fading rugby league players. The premise (two women playing disgusting men) is funny from the get-go and the costumes and makeup are so good they hardly need a script. Especially once they flash faux penises.
Trading mock insults has its laughworthy moments, too. As when French threatens Saunders. 'If you do that again, I'll kick you right up the fanny. I'll kick you so hard your fanny will be on your face. Oh, sorry. I see it already is.' Few, if any, men could say that and get away with it. Which makes it challenging. And funny. 'Cause who doesn't like to chuckle and guffaw at gross political incorrectness. We need it. It's anxiety-relieving therapy. It uncoils our tightly-wound, workaday selves.
Even some of the silly stuff can be funny. While Saunders takes a break, French calls for her chocolate-scanning device. It has an endoscopic attachment which enables to poke around audience members more sacrosanct areas for bounty. The live camera is cleverly interspersed with recorded cutaways of nits in their hair and cobwebs up their skirts (& Rolf Harris). Not admirable genius, but amusing enough. Conversely, while a giant Vicar of Dibley might be impressive, for its own sake, it makes for pretty lame, stale, half-hearted comedy. Similarly, two older English ladies in retirement in Florida, apart from being an unlikely setup, even in making a worthwhile (if self-evident) comment on American supersizing, is barely sustained by giant food & bevvy props.
All-in-all, it's a mixed bag. Loyalists will love it. Because they love F & S. They loved it before the lights went down. If you're not so well-versed in the duo's work, you might wonder if your money mightn't have been better-spent. Like on a 'greatest hits' dvd.
I've great admiration for F & S. They've presence. Grace. Courage. They've brought enjoyment to millions. I just don't have quite so much admiration for this particular show. They could and should go out on a better, tighter, higher note. Take an hour out of the show and they might have a stunner on their hands. As it is, their hands seem to be a little too distracted by something else.
French and Saunders Australian Tour
Newcastle Entertainment Centre NSW
25 - 26 Jun
Royal Theatre ACT
Capitol Theatre NSW
1 - 9 Jul
Brisbane Convention Centre QLD
11 - 13 Jul 12 Jul
Palais Theatre VIC
15 - 20 Jul
Burswood Theatre WA
23 - 25 Jul
Festival Theatre SA
28 - 29 Jul 28 Jul