Sane New World: Ruby Wax @ MICF

Ruby Wax is the kind of name that envisions every inch of her being: brassy, sassy, and bold. The long-ago script editor of UK’s Absolutely Fabulous, Wax is renowned for her no-holes-barred interview style, and brazen personality.

A true performer, she has a deprecating and ruthless wit, and flashes it about as one does when they know they have the audience in the palm of their hand – and they wanna dance with them there.

She is loud, hilarious, and as confronting as ever, but in her new show Sane New World, we see an educational side of Wax emerge from within the snappy humour. She is no less honest, and certainly no less brash, but there was tenderness in her subject matter that piqued fresh interest from the 500 or so onlookers at the Melbourne Arts Centre during her show at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival. 

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Mental illness seems to be a trending theme this year. When the world comes into a new wave of consciousness, the arts tend to come alive with various interpretations and representations of global learning.

In Sane New World Wax incorporates her own battle with depression, though the core of the show is based around her choice to study neuroscience and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. For a comedy show, it doesn’t seem all that funny, does it? Yet the use of comedy to distribute new and important information is a testament to the lengths these women are taking, not just as entertainers, but as educators and activists.
Wax took us through ‘a day in her old life’, which incorporated a vigorous live role-play. She exacerbated the many ways she would purposefully fill her life with stress, and in turn, her main addiction: ADRENALINE. A self-described junkie, she would feed off last minute activities, until she was ‘driving down the street screaming “FUCK YOU!” at strangers while small children flapped around in her wheels.’
Upon reflection of her manic existence, Wax wanted to better understand the mechanics of the brain and of her own condition. This would lead to her study of neuroscience at a London College. She gave us a crash course in neurotransmitters and then on a slide show behind her she reeled off related hormones. She then gave us hilarious descriptions of them all, describing them as people and proceeding to act out their qualities and how they were associated with her own being.

We were privy to her overall theme of mental illness, and to her comic resolve, but the show was also a positive reflection on the best things she had learned while undergoing the study of her own mind. While mental illness is a vastly case-by-case situation, Wax has hilariously, and very intelligently, narrowed down her learning into a 70-minute performance piece (with a 20 minute discussion at the end) in order to both entertain and educate anybody who might like, or need, to listen. She ended the show with an explanation of mindfulness, an exercise in its practice, and how it has helped her. We were all invited (not forced) to sit forward in our chairs and practice being in the moment — feeling our feet on the ground, concentrating on the presence of touch and the cycle of our breath. The idea, she said, is to be mindful of our senses, of the now and not the past or present, so as not to become trapped in a cycle of negative thoughts. “As they say,” said Wax, “Pain is pain. But suffering, is a choice.”

We were not off the hook entirely — post-discussion Wax quickly wrapped up with her promised interpretation of ‘the twerk’. She was a hilariously average dancer, she gave zero fucks, and the audience was in stitches. They say laughter is the best medicine, after all.

Ruby Wax is playing a few more shows around Australia, check out dates and tickets on the MICF website

Esther Rivers

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