Sandi Toksvig – Live Review – York Barbican
Sandi Toksvig – Live Review
York Barbican, January 2019
by David Schuster
“Celebrity and Death are tonight’s two themes,” smiles Sandi Toksvig, admitting that these aren’t obvious bedfellows, before explaining that we talk too much about the former, and not enough about the latter. There’s nothing maudlin about the evening though, far from it: There’s a lot of chuckles from the British-Danish comedian’s trademark wry, intelligent humour. This is a show that literally laughs directly into the face of our inevitable mortality, in order to celebrate life and the importance of seizing the day; carpe diem.
Sandi Toksvig OBE is one of those people whose achievements make you wonder what you’ve been doing with your time. Known best as a television, theatre and radio comedian, actor and producer. She is also a writer of plays, novels and children’s books, and (if that weren’t enough) a political activist, having founded the Women’s Equality Party and is president of the Woman of the Year Lunch. She weaves threads of all these interests into a wonderfully entertaining tapestry.
“Meanders gently between topics”
Not that the talented presenter stands on any ceremony. She arrives on stage with a cheery “Here I am!” and immediately clarifies that the tour is called ‘National Trevor’, after a misheard telephone conversation about her status as a ‘national treasure’. On a stage carefully contrived to give a feeling of informality; an armchair, side table piled with books and a reading lamp sat on top of a colourful rug, she is the antithesis of unapproachable stardom. Celebrity however is something that she has lived with all her life; her father, Claus, is widely recognised as having been one of the most important figures in Danish broadcasting and was a household name in Denmark. Continually moving around the world as the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s foreign correspondent, this was celebrity that was earned, juxtaposed with today’s Made in Chelsea stars, famous for being famous.
In a monologue that meanders gently between topics, there’s mention of The Great British Bake Off. “I’m still coming to terms with the fact that there’s three kinds of meringues. Four if you count that sh*t made from chick pea water. Yes, Vegan week wasn’t universally popular.”
“A fantastic night’s entertainment”
There’s a discussion of the perils of biscuit eating, with a ranked table of biscuits in order of risk. I won’t spoil the reveal, but my favourite is the most dangerous. Life on the edge, that’s me. There’s an entertaining sprinkling of QI style facts; who knew that Mussolini was a published romantic novelist? She waves a copy of his book, The Cardinal’s Mistress, by way of proof, and she points out the irony that Barry Manilow didn’t write his hit song, ‘I Write the Songs’. And, as you might expect, there’s some political observation. Apparently, David Cameron used to play Angry Birds on his phone during cabinet meetings, “But, thank goodness, he didn’t take his eye off the ball!” After this, she points out that her father finished his career as a Member of the European Parliament. “I’d planned to do the same,” she says with a wry smile. “That’s not going so well.”
As well as the verbal amusement there’s audience participation. We all take part in a game of True or False, where the entire audience is whittled down to single winner in a far from serious competition. There’s a short question and answer section, where one imaginative audience member asks who she’d choose to partner her in a three-legged race. “Richard Osman” is the immediate response, prompting a lot of laughter at the image of the diminutive comedian paired with Osman’s six feet seven-inch height. By the end of the performance the whole audience are on their feet clapping, not just in appreciation of a fantastic night’s entertainment, but also because we have all just been enthusiastically conducting a Beethoven symphony en-masse. Carpe diem!