Joan Rivers: A Work In Progress By A Life In Progress

By John Nathan, September 4, 2008
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Leicester Square Theatre, London WC2

You have got to have a particular brand of chutzpah to get your revenge on someone by falsely accusing them of antisemitism and then celebrating the fact by dancing the horah while singing Hava Nagilah - on stage - in front of people, some of them gentiles.

This is one of the outrageous highlights of Joan Rivers's autobiographical play. Though ‘play' is not quite the right word. More accurately, this show, written by Rivers and comedy writing duo Douglas Bernstein and Denis Markell, is a cleverly constructed vehicle which allows its star to do a little acting and a lot of talking.
The setting is a grubby television network's dressing room where Rivers is getting ready to present one of the red-carpet awards shows that revived her TV career.

To her left is her incompetent assistant (Nathan Osgood), to her right is her incompetent Russian make-up artist (Emily Kosloski), and running through the middle is a creaky plot about a dress not arriving on time and a scary new TV executive, the only species on this planet Rivers fears, mainly for their ruthless ageism.

At 75, Rivers belies her age. Not because she looks so young - she actually doesn't look any age at all, so tight is the skin on her face - but because of her energy.

It is no surprise that this queen of stand-up is at her funniest when she's doing what she does best - rudely confiding in her audience about her life and career that includes a lesbian kiss with Barbra Streisand, her big break on the Bill Cosby show and a movingly told account of her husband's suicide.

Director Sean Foley knows a thing or two about breaking through the fourth wall and with the asides to her fellow performers, much fun is had at the expense of theatrical convention. And at its best this show flies not just because of its comedy, but because of its honesty too. (Tel: 0844 847 24 75)

    Last updated: 2:59pm, September 10 2008