Joan Rivers - A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress

Joan Rivers, Douglas Bernstein and Denis Markell
Leicester Square Theatre
(2008)

Joan Rivers

Has nobody ever told Joan Rivers about political correctness? She may look like a little old (face-lifted) Jewish New Yorker but the 75-year-old granny swears like a trooper and makes fun of practically every minority grouping imaginable.

Joan Rivers - A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress is basically a stand-up set entwined with what purports to be and maybe even is the life story of a comedy star who has somehow lived up to her ringtone "I Will Survive".

For much of the 100 or so minutes, it is hard to remember that this Edinburgh transfer is billed as a play, so thin is the plot.

Miss R has ceded best dressing room to her inevitably much younger daughter, Melissa, on Oscars night. She bitches about everything, accompanied by a pair of stooges, played by Nathan Osgood and Emily Kosloski, who struggle to maintain straight faces as they are repeatedly used as the butt of gay and anti-feminist/Russian jokes respectively.

The best moments arrive with the second six-foot plus blonde beauty of the evening, Carrie Paff's Evan, a new broom employed by the network to sweep away 75-year-old comediennes. The set-up, aided by director Sean Foley from The Right Size, is perfect and leads from broad comedy into a few moments of genuine pathos, as the actress recalls the last days of her Cambridge Don husband Edgar and the impact that his death had on the then 16-year-old Melissa.

Soon enough though, we are back into the joke-telling, always delivered with perfect timing and frequently raising guffaws of laughter particularly from a large gay contingent. Joan Rivers is a gay icon and doesn't she know it.

Her fan club is far more extensive than sensitive men, primarily of a certain age, and despite a feeling that a few minutes lost would be of great benefit, they will ensure that the newly-refurbished and very comfortable Leicester Square Theatre (formerly The Venue) will be sold out for as long as this consummate professional performer wants to tell her life story, or just some great jokes.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher