Sandi Toksvig Next slide, please
***** (5 stars)
From the moment she strolled out of the wings saying “Hallo, lovely people” to the moment she tore herself away from our prolonged and heartfelt applause, I laughed. I laughed more in the two hours of her show than I have in the whole two years of lockdown, and for that alone I am her devoted fan for life, as must everyone be who was in the packed theatre last night.
Her enthusiasm for being OUT – here, in person, with us, tonight – shone out and wrapped us all in the warmth of her love for people: people who immediately became individuals, not faceless bums on seats, and whose achievements we all celebrated joyfully. There was Gary in the front row who was invited to introduce her to us; the people who took up something new in lockdown – beginning a PhD in the history of crochet, learning burlesque dancing, starting wild swimming; the woman who is a Guinness world record holder of three-legged racing, and the one who confessed to being so late in a school race at the tender age of four that everyone had given up and she missed out on getting a sticker and having her time recorded… Pencils were awarded to all, and the applause was warm and generous: here in this space we were free to be our real selves, warts and all.
We were encouraged, too, to be childlike in our curiosity. Sandi shared with us fascinating facts she’s discovered; ridiculous things she’s bought when the late-night lure of online shopping during lockdown proved irresistible; extraordinary books she’s come across; and fascinating places she and her wife Deb came across on late-night walks in the Square Mile of the City of London. Her joy in these things is infectious, and I hope many present were inspired to go on voyages of discovery on a local bus route, or to haunt secondhand bookshops in the hopes of finding something extraordinary on the shelves.
After the interval we moved via Dorothy Parker and Gordon Brown to a novel way of choosing politicians: a quiz, in which we were all invited to take part. We were offered a number of statements and had to decide were they true or false – getting the answer wrong meant being out of the game. Most of us were eliminated very quickly, but a few stalwarts remained standing for some time: finally the winner was offered the choice – go down to Downing Street and offer yourself as the country’s new leader, or accept a very small bar of Swedish chocolate… which would you have chosen, dear reader?
Like the Elephant’s Child in Kipling’s Jungle Book, Sandi Toksvig is full of Satiable Curtiosity, and it’s infectious, as is her effervescent and infectious sense of humour. An Aztec joke, the founding of the first coffee house in London, a hand-written birthday party invitation from Roman times, the John Knox House on the High Street in Edinburgh, and the amazing deaf-blind activist Helen Keller led us into Sandi’s new resolutions not to spend her whole life looking back at history, but to look at the present; never to enter debates on social media; and to slow down, and sit down, preferably under the trees in the woodland she and Deb now live beside, and which they are making available to the local community.
This led us into Sandi’s favourite part of her shows – a Q&A session with the audience exemplifying her own wide-ranging curiosity: telling her the best axe to use when she wearies of her mechanical log-splitter; asking how she met her wife; enquiring about the rules of QI, her favourite tree, and whether Aalborg is worth a visit [yes]; and hearing about Sandi’s series Extraordinary Escapes and, incidentally, her attempt to re-wild superfluous sushi…
The whole evening was suffused with joy – the joy of being together, of learning about each other, sharing our experiences, being accepted, and being included and welcome just as we are. It was entirely fitting, therefore, that we were invited to close the show together by standing [if able] and conducting together the closing bars of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – the aptly named, exhilarating, Ode to Joy.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our common humanity and the love we can offer each other than by sharing the profound pleasure of laughing together at the extraordinary diversity that exists in this world. Thank you, Sandi!
Sandi Toksvig Next slide, please, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Run Ended.