Reviewer: Jo Beggs
For a long time Ruby Wax kept her mental illness quiet. After all, the media wasn’t known, at least at the height of Wax’s TV comedy career, as a nurturing and empathetic industry. Instead she dealt with it quietly until, in 2010, realising perhaps just how much positive impact her story could have, she made a show about her clinical depression. Audience reaction was overwhelming, and led to her 2013 book Sane New World.
Ruby Wax opens the show based on that book by talking about busyness, the scourge of our time. She’s one to talk. In the same year she published it she graduated from Oxford University with a MA in Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy. Wax’s explorations of her own mental health and that of others had led to a fascination with how the brain works. Turned off by “fluffy” therapies, she was won over by the scientific basis for these ever more popular techniques and had found that they brought her demonstrable health benefits. Although she says she wouldn’t like to swear that her practising Mindfulness techniques is the sole reason for her seven years without a mental heath episode, she’d rather not risk stopping it now.
Wax brings her trademark straight-talking and wit to the whole subject while not shying away from delving into the science and teaching us all a bit about our how our brains work. Constant curiosity is, after all, the only way to exercise our most important organ. With slides and a laser pointer, Wax demonstrates the brain’s amazing capacity. Weaving together a lecture and stories from her own professional and personal life, she illustrates her own discovery that we can change the way we think, the way we react, and the way we live.
In the second half of the show the audience get their chance to voice their own experiences, and voice them they do. Wax’s brave and honest approach to subjects that are so often hushed up has rubbed off. The Q&A becomes more of a therapy session in which people speak openly about their mental health issues, addictions and treatments. There’s a strong sense that people feel they need Wax’s approval, and she doles it out with generosity and a refreshing lightness of touch. Wax’s book has clearly had a huge impact on many of the people who choose to speak, somehow the brash, loud-mouth yank of the 80s and 90s has become a much-loved confident, a passionate and intelligent spokeswoman for one of the least talked about problems of our time.
Some of the brave folk who speak up really do need to get stuff off their chests. The question is whether this is really the place for it. At times things tip over into an uncomfortable therapy-session-meets-Jeremy Kyle atmosphere, and even Wax seems a little out of her depth. If this were TV or radio we’d be given a number to call if we’ve been affected by any of the content in the programme. Instead, Wax ends the Q&A rather abruptly and returns to comedy for the last few minutes of the show. Not just a few more funny stories but, rather ambiguously, a comic dance. A tension-breaker perhaps? Or just a celebration of the much-improved place Wax is now in, a reminder that if she can do it, we can all be the person who pulls through.
Sane New World is in many ways an interesting and enlightening experience, but it sits slightly awkwardly somewhere between entertainment, a lecture and a therapeutic workshop. Don’t go expecting hilarity, you need to be prepared to roll with whatever emerges in the room, and every night must throw up a whole new set of thoughts to take away.
Reviewed on 27 Oct 2014