Wax's New Show Dripping With Mindfulness

By Ben Venables Last edited 47 months ago
Wax's New Show Dripping With Mindfulness ★★★☆☆ 3

Credit: Steve Ullathorne

Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

Ruby Wax has gone and gotten herself hooked on neuroscience. Tonight, she even reads aloud from an academic textbook. With cup of tea in hand and relaxing back on a replica tree stump, she makes for quite the modern day muse.

Several years ago Wax wrote a show about clinical depression. It's a condition she suffers from and hits her every few years like a tidal wave. Coming out from under the wave, Wax wanted to understand how the brain worked. Secondary to her depression, she perceived her career to be diving into deep waters of its own. There were all those projects she should have said no to. Shows like Celebrity Shark Bait, or being the voice of constipation. While her clinical depression does have relevance to the show, her target is something more universal: our drive to keep busy and the 'gap' between our modern lives and our more ancient hormonal system.

Wax found 'mindfulness', the now very popular meditative practice. But not only did she find mindfulness, she studied it — graduating with a masters from Oxford. Then came her book and this show of the same title.

Not that Wax's newly-found calmness dampens her Tigger-like quality. On stage, she oozes sassiness. But this is where it's all a little troubling. As entertaining as her delivery is, are we watching a show interested in evidence-based science, or seeing Wax exploit the current mood for mindfulness and launch herself as a self-styled guru for hire?

The answer to this isn't forthcoming. On the science side, there is encouraging evidence for mindfulness and an interestingly nuanced debate about what it's helpful for and its limitations. Wax doesn't delve into this much. Instead we're given a rather  slapdash account of human history from 'man on the savannah' to modern day social media. Yet while she identifies the apparent societal problems of today, Wax never tries to sell mindfulness as a catch-all solution. This is much to her credit and in her favour. And while her knowledge of the brain wouldn't impress if delivered by a neurologist or psychiatrist, her synthesis of all her recently acquired knowledge suggests there's more to her mind than winning charm.

Wax certainly doesn't disappoint the audience. Indeed, over half gave a standing ovation. And though her closing twerk wasn't our cup of tea, this perhaps says more about us than her. Despite our misgivings about whether she's guru or genuine guide, this is an interesting turn in the comedian's career, and one that would take a hard heart not to wish her luck with.

Ruby Wax: Sane New World runs until 14 March at St James Theatre. Tickets £20-£30. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 06 March 2015