As the audience begins to fill the 400-seat upstairs theatre at the Forum, Ruby Wax is already on stage, pouring herself a cup of tea and taking photos of the crowd with her iPhone.
It’s a low-key start to what is one of the most anticipated events of the Comedy Festival, but the comic has the crowd on her side from the moment she speaks (labelling the venue, full of Romanesque statues, as “what Satan’s house in Venice would look like.”)
In her first Australian visit since 2000, the fast-talking former TV host – best known for her string of globally-successful UK programs in the 1990s, in which she interviewed everybody from Pamela Anderson to the Duchess of York – offers much more than a run-of-the-mill stand-up show.
Out of Her Mind is centred on Wax’s lifelong battle with clinical depression, which has institutionalised her several times. Her detailed descriptions of her nervous breakdowns – complete with suitably dim lighting – are eloquent and poignant; making the hour-long show an intensely personal, captivating piece of theatre.
The American-raised, English-based performer still knows how to make hundreds howl with laughter, though, and pokes fun at everything from her mother’s overbearing parenting style to the type of rich glamour mums she encounters at her daughter’s school sports days.
Wax continually refers to her desire for a life manual (“anyone got one?”) to help her navigate her way through marriage and parenthood, and there’s a bit of psychology 101 as she wheels out a model of a brain, pointing out the various bits that make us think, laugh and cry.
The show frequently veers from laugh-out-loud funny to deeply serious, and those that enjoy their comedy black and full of substance will find themselves thinking about its themes long after they’ve stopped laughing.