Sane New World
St James Theatre
4 March 2015
Ruby Wax is a transatlantic treasure. So it was terribly exciting to hear of her brand new one woman show, Sane New World, playing for a limited run at the St. James Theatre. But there was a spark missing tonight. Ruby, vibrant as ever, with her quick wit, and honest opinions of her own neuroses, unfortunately gave us less of a journey-filled one woman show, and more of a neuroscience lecture, with jokes.
The actual content of the show lasts about an hour, and nearly pushes towards the confessional. There’s a moment when Ruby declares to the audience that she received a masters in Neuroscience from Oxford– and of course waits for her moment of applause—but ultimately that’s the only specific moment we ever really receive from her life’s story. This is a show, she states, for everyone, but by leaving out the specifics of herself, she has almost generalized herself out of the piece. Except she’s the only one in it.
As soon as she states her recent education, one immediately longs for a great storytelling arc—what must it have been like for Ruby Wax of all people to go to Oxford to study neuroscience? That itself would be as fascinating to hear about as watching her with Imelda Marcos and the shoes was in the 1990s. But instead, we are given a brief scientific explanation of mindfulness that she encountered while studying. We’re given conclusions, not journeys. There’s a heck of a lot of head here, and even though she’s talking plenty about emotions, very little heart.
The second half held even less of Ruby herself, as it was a Q&A with an audience that didn’t quite know what to ask—instead, it became one of those self-esteem inducing back-door bragging self-love fests that middle class London theatre audiences crave. But most of the time, those Q&As aren’t timed into the show—they’re one off after thoughts. Ruby explains that she built these Q&As into her first show when she workshopped it for use in the medical field and in those instances it makes sense. Such is not the case here.
The best one woman shows, in the pedigree of such greats as Julia Sweeney and her widely released Letting Go of God have very specific intellectual arguments, just as Sane New World does, but Julia guides us through her journey from devout Catholic to Atheist. What ignites that show is the rawness of sharing intimate moments that shake ones core while making an intellectual argument. Ruby on the other hand seems to have found the end of her intellectual journey, or at least a rest stop, and has decided to give us “just the facts ma’am,” which sadly feels like a missed opportunity.
Reviewed by James Garden
Sane New World runs until 14 March at St James Theatre