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REVIEW | ‘Joanna Lumley – It’s All About Me’ at The London Palladium

The British icon takes her one-woman show on the road

By Steve Brown

There are many things you couldn’t possibly have considered would be happening in 2018.

Sitting in one of London’s grandest theatres and applauding Joanna Lumley’s bra shoes from her 1994 documentary, Girl Friday, would rate pretty high on that list.

Yet here we are. As Lumley pulls item after item from a cloth bag from her stint on a desert island there’s an anticipation building throughout the audience that the icon of British television is, at any moment, going to whip out the bra that she fashioned into a pair of slip-on shoes nearly 25 years ago.

As weird as 2018 has been, we’re not here solely to pay homage to Lumley’s hoarding capabilities – though if that’s an option for an exhibition, consider one ticket already pre-sold.

This is the 72-year-old’s – yes, 72 and still looking incredible – debut solo tour, It’s All About Me. As the title suggests, it’s a show all about the career of Ms Lumley, from her modelling days – “Five adverts and you got an equity card. I did five adverts and they changed the rules.” – to finally making her break in acting.

From the moment Lumley strides onto the stage – to wild applause and screaming – she doesn’t let up as she takes the audience on a chronological journey of how she ended up one of the nation’s most beloved actresses.

With a career that spans over 50 years, there’s obviously some editing – refer to the extensive tour programme for a full breakdown of appearances – and most of what is referred to is played to great comedy effect.

There’s her short-lived stint in Coronation Street, where she tried to warm the nation to her in order to become a recurring character. Sapphire and Steel gets a lot of love from the audience in the theatre, though Lumley explains that a lot of the audiences at home didn’t realise the complicated sci-fi show was actually on twice a week and not just once.

The New Avengers, which could in all honesty be an entire live show to itself, becomes hilarious stories about suspenders and then being suspended in mid-air – while pouring a glass of champagne, naturally.

Of course, it’s Patsy Stone in Absolutely Fabulous that Lumley is arguably best-known as, and again, this role warrants an entire production to itself.

Can someone please get Jennifer Saunders on the phone and sign them up to a tour where they talk about their time on the programme? Until then, we’re treated to general behind-the-scenes mischief, impressions of cast members and reminded that Idris Elba played a male escort in an early episode. “He doesn’t put that on his CV anymore,” she deadpans.

It’s really a whirlwind of comedy, self-deprecating humour, clips and general lovely chat about how wonderful everything is until you realise that Lumley has barely taken a breath or stood still for over an hour and it’s time for a well-earned interval.

In the second act (“It’s still all about me.”) Lumley is joined by producer Clive Tulloh – the man responsible for forcing the icon to fashion her brassiere into shoes, before taking her on a new career path in travel journalism.

Formed of questions from the audience – though with the pre-planned clips you wonder how many questions are new, not that it matters – the Q&A section does have a larger focus on their trips around the globe, allowing Lumley to impart various advice and pearls of wisdom.

There’s still time for more comedy – in fact, Lumley is told to give shorter answers, such is her love of telling the stories – and material from her appearance on The Full Wax gets its rightful place in the show.

She even acknowledges that she was actually the first female Doctor – “an honorary Doctor Who” – having played the part briefly in a Comic Relief performance in 1999. “Just for a little minute, Jodie, I was there ahead of you darling.”

It’s a rare occurrence that someone has a career so wide and varied that it’s actually too much for a retrospective stage show, but Lumley nails it without having to rely heavily on video footage and still leaves the audience desperate for more.

Rating: 4*

Joanna Lumley – It’s All About Me tours the UK until 11 November 2018, tickets available here.

Words: Darren Scott. Image by Rankin.