No, the title doesn’t refer to the amount of time I’ve spent watching online plays and writing reviews in my month-long #30plays30days challenge. Thirty Million Minutes actually indicates the rough length of time that Dawn French had been alive at the time of her solo show recorded in its final incarnation in 2016. As the piece is basically an on stage autobiography, sharing some material with her book Dear Fatty, it is an entirely appropriate name.
Unlike the general run of biographies, however, most of the show goes against the ordered chronology implied by the title and instead French looks at her life in relation to those closest to her – parents, brother, grandparents, daughter, husbands and, in one particularly memorable section, herself in the form of her own body.
Interestingly, French makes little of her actual career, her fame and celebrity status and she certainly eschews the chance to trot out a string of show biz anecdotes. Most of her work associates such as Jenifer Saunders, the Comic Strip performers and, of course, ex-husband Lenny Henry merit only fleeting mentions and she nicely skates round any potential prurience over the break down of her marriage.
This show treads a very fine line between play and stand up comedy and I’m still not entirely sure which category it falls into. It has all the rhythms and sectioning which a comedy routine employs and it certainly has the laughter. However, there is an evident lack of improvisation or comment on the audience; every nuance is clearly scripted. Elements which would be more usually associated with plays are systematically deployed.
For a start, the piece has a credited director and one of no little standing either, Michael Grandage no less. A back-projected set is provided by the renowned Lez Brotherston who also created the costume – really? There was an actual costume? Strong use of lighting (John Walker) and sound (Ben & Max Ringham) also propel the performance away from the sphere of stand up. There is, too, the element of the confessional but played for sincerity rather than laughs. In all I have concluded it is actually a kind of strange hybrid form – neither one thing or the other but satisfying both sets of criteria.