Review: Ruby Wax – How To Be Human, Theatre Royal, Brighton Festival

ruby wax review

Ruby Wax has made a good name for herself in recent years with her shows - and books - concerning mental health. January of last year saw the release of her latest tome, How To Be Human: The Manual, put together with a little help from monk Gelong Thubten and neuroscientist Ash Ranpura. But more about them later. Part anthropology TED talk and part one-woman show, the first half of the show sees Wax present her findings in a humorous and fact-packed manner. Introducing herself and her credentials for context, Wax tops the show by explaining that this is her move from speaking about mental ill health to mental well-being, curiously pitched alongside the science of the brain. There’s a lot to unpack.

It’s an enjoyable presentation, separated by chapter headings with fictitious slides and short films described by Wax as she waves her laser pointer at the blank screen to punctuate each one. It is so packed though that inevitably you’re playing the numbers game of fact retention, throwing a lot at the audience in the hope that enough will stick. Breaking the presentation up liberally with moments when Wax steps away from her lectern into tangents of personal illustration of her points is illuminating and entertaining, not least the expressive dance piece complete with ribbon. This is a TED talk worth catching for anyone interested in learning more about the mind, and with a hope that we can all be better humans in the world. Something that feels particularly relevant in the current climate.

The second half of the show was much looser, and brought the aforementioned monk and neuroscientist into the mix too, with all three on stage. An interesting juxtaposition between being aware of the brain from the inside and from the outside, questioning how we form and break patterns, as well as an actual demonstration on Thubten’s bald pate by Ranpura as to where various actions within the brain reside. It did feel rather tagged on as an afterthought though, an impression made all the more stronger when the floor was opened for questions from the audience that was barely chaired and ‘questions’ became testimonials of life experiences pretty quickly.

This is only the second show in a hefty tour with over 50 dates, and although billed as a Ruby Wax and friends performance, it has more of the feel of an entertaining book tour. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Perhaps that TED talk will beckon, and perhaps the second half will find more structure. How To Be Human is engaging, well researched and hopeful. An antidote to the ill-informed calamitising that clickbaits brains every other day.

Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, August 8 - 24. Tickets here.

Picture: Steve Ullathorne

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