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Victoria Wood is an undisputed national treasure. A comedy singer/songwriter, TV and film actress, script writer and most notably an award winning stand-up comedienne she has dominated the UK comedy screens since the early 1980s with her breakthrough role in her own TV sketch show "Victoria Wood as Seen on TV" including the Crossroads satire "Acorn Antiques" which later went on to become a stage musical, to be followed by "Dinnerladies (1998)", and she has even made a foray into the drama world with the BAFTA winning (for both writing and acting) "Housewife, 49 (2006)" to name but a few of her productions. She has also released four DVDs of her stand-up tours in the UK, the first from 1991 "Victoria Wood Sold Out" which was from "The Mayflower Theatre" in Southampton, the second "Victoria Wood Live in your Own Home" from the Royal Albert Hall in 1994, the third "Victoria Wood Live" from High Wycombe and the DVD I will eventually get round to reviewing and finally the fourth, and the one I was lucky enough to attend in person back in 2002, "Victoria At The Albert Hall" - guess where that one was recorded... Much of the humour for her stand-up routines are derived from observational comedy, clever wordplay and generally taking the mickey out of society's classes with exaggerated but believable caricatures in her own unflinchingly honest and direct way, but, as a result of her subject choices, her act is perhaps considered being better suited to the more middle-aged generation for whom talk of an impending menopause or the trials and tribulations of nits may be more relevant, yet even though I was only 15 when I first saw this DVD and perhaps not the target demographic I still found her to be absolutely hilarious, so much so that on top of seeing her live at the Albert Hall, I've watched an episode of Dinnerladies being filmed and attended Acorn Antiques: The Musical and so I've decided that this alleged "middle-aged target audience" is a mere myth perpetuated by people such as myself and that just about anyone can find Ms Wood, aka Queen Victoria, genuinely funny making her one of the best female, if not in general, stand-up comedians around (even though she has sadly retired). So, the DVD with the best bits of "Victoria Wood Live" crammed in to just 96 minutes, takes place at the Swan Theatre in High Wycombe, apparently the perfect place to get yourself a lemon acrylan button through cardigan - good to know. Victoria Wood has such an energetic, high octane and effervescent presence on stage that the second she steps out she has the audience enthralled and she is into her stride immediately. Her act is definitely sculpted around boring day to day life and the various irritating experiences that most people have probably gone through at some point and she magically transforms an impressive array of tedious things like morning routines with young children, management of hair growth in unfortunate places, the trauma of organising children's parties, call centre stress, cellulite or even Christmas with your relatives into raucous laughter through the use of hilarious anecdotes and metaphors, songs on the piano and the mimicking and mocking of various English social stereotypes. Whilst the language is always clean, Victoria Wood is also certainly not afraid to get her hands dirty and dive in to taboo subjects without embarrassment which leaves the audience often discomfited but thoroughly tickled. The punch lines for her anecdotal jokes always feel very clever and witty and it is her delivery style which really makes them work, often with things like biting sarcasm, highly amusing facial expressions, wild stage antics and gesticulations, silly voices, and you know, things like turning into a dolphin. Clever wordplay features heavily in her type of humour: "He was an international figure skater. She said he was very nice but he was very boring in bed, you know, every night it was the same, the compulsories followed by the short programme". If mocking the sexual prowess of an unfortunate ex-boyfriend isn't enough, insulting a shop worker seems to be the next step up: "The only thing I could find to put on this morning that was clean was a body. I've got it on now, which one have I got on, I've got two, oh yeah this is made by Fantasy, this is my Fantasy body. I've got another one made by Burly, but it was so embarrassing going into the shop and saying to the woman behind the counter 'Excuse me, do you have a large white Burly body?', 'How dare you!'". Victoria Wood has always been renowned for her musical skills as well which featured in her early career, and here she treats us to 4 songs and a closing ditty spread throughout her set. She does use pretty repetitive and simplistic tunes, which certainly won't be heading to number 1 on our labouring music charts any time soon, but which have a great rhythm to cater for the silly but amusing lyrics that rely on a lot of rhyming plus provide easy pausing capabilities for the inevitable laughter interruptions, and, ignoring a few uncomfortable high notes bordering on a rendition from a strangled cat, she sings all the songs very well which adds an whole extra dimension to her show. There is one song that is of a rather more serious nature which perhaps isn't as good as the others as doesn't quite fit in to the general atmosphere but it does show off her lyrical skills nonetheless. My favourite song "They call me Pam" is very amusing and shows off Victoria Wood's talent at creating satirical characters through outrageous storytelling: "I don't say gay, I still say queer, I think that Mussolini had the right idea. Got engaged in '62, got married in the April in a nice pale blue. It all turned sour to say the least, I was stuck in Abergele with a sex-crazed beast". Other caricatures she brings to life by creating mini-sketches include the completely bonkers and loud Northern plastic surgery nurse with no apparent off-switch: "Now don't worry about us being bang next to the chip shop like this, which by the way only uses pure vegetable oil, there is no deal going on with the leftovers from the liposuction". Another is the slightly nerdy charity collector with her own special take on gyms and health care whilst wearing what looks to be a hat modelled in a shower cap style and a yellow poncho: "She does water resistance work in the pool - 'Aqua Pump Aerobics' with ankle weights, that's really good, well as long as you're in the shallow end, 'cos it does like remove any aerobic benefit... drowning". Finally, as an encore enters the flamboyant Hailey Bailey with her unique aerobics class demonstration with some highly unorthodox moves and a perhaps less than stellar fitness level of her own: "Oh God that's enough of that! Take me knickers off and me ovaries would have fell out or somethin'". Hailey Bailey in particular was a great creation as she had the audience in absolute stitches and showed how embarrassment free Victoria Wood really is. I personally think Victoria Wood's comedy styling puts a lot of more modern stand-up comics to shame, i.e. those that try to be as offensive, rude and controversial as possible to get cheap laughs (*cough* Frankie Boyle *cough), as she proves that clean gags about things people can easily relate to will keep an audience focused and highly amused and grimace free, and despite this show being 15 years+ old so many of her observations are still relevant in today's society, and she is so naturally engaging with her conversational style, energetic and bubbly delivery and her ability to find humour in any situation that an audience is powerless against her charm offensive. The fact she also adds mini-sketches and piano fun to the equation adds a great diversity to the show that keeps it feeling fresh all the way though, and I would thoroughly recommend this DVD for anybody that enjoys a good stand-up gig, as you could do a lot worse than the brilliant Victoria Wood, and given the age of the DVD you won't need to spend much more than £5 to purchase it. Alas, the DVD itself however has no extras and simply has a root menu of Victoria Wood looking mildly amused next to "Play All" and "Chapter Selection" options with a snippet of audience laughter playing on a never ending loop, and under the "Chapter Selection" menu you will find a bemused looking Victoria Wood next to 8 aptly named chapters with again a background snippet of audience laughter being played on a never ending loop. Still, if you're ever feeling self-doubt, you could always leave this running in the background and convince yourself there is a tiny audience inhabiting your living room being dazzled by your very presence to lift your mood. The stage production is very basic, just following Victoria Wood's antics on stage, which is just as well as the DVD shows its age a bit, with a limited aspect ratio of 4:3 so on modern day TVs you will be forced to view it with chunky black stripes down the side unless you want to stretch it out of all proportion, but it doesn't really take long to filter those out and get absorbed in the actual performance. The picture quality isn't brilliant either, but again given what you are watching, special effects are irrelevant so you don't need a top quality picture anyway. If this kind of thing bothers you, don't be a snob.
I only got this last week but I have already watched it 5 times it is from 1994, so is not that old and the sketches are as hilarious as ever with a few funny but unusual songs thrown in for fun. Of course not forgetting the ever present “Freda and Barry” as her finale I must say it’s not as good as Haley Paily in 1997 but still who can beat the classics. You can like all the rest of her videos buy this from Amazon.