Sandi Toksvig – My Valentine – Poole Lighthouse, Friday October 5th, 2012

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Sandi Toksvig starts her show My Valentine (directed by Pip Broughton) by warning the audience that it has, on occasion, been seen as a bit of a letdown, but she needn’t have worried as the two hours whiz by far so fast we can barely catch our breath..

The first half constitutes something of an autobiography and family history, covering her career (from the first – and only – all female footlights revue through to QI and The News Quiz), her childhood at schools on both sides of the Atlantic, and her family’s myriad connections and achievements in the arts (which range from her father’s role as Denmark’s first television foreign correspondent to her aunt and uncle’s position in the Algonquin Round Table alongside Dorothy Parker).

The credit from her career that perhaps resonates most throughout the entire show, though, is Call My Bluff, as the Dane consistently displays her love for the English language, contrasting it with the comparative paucity of the Danish language. That doesn’t stop her from teaching us a seemingly random Danish phrase – “I am the King of Denmark and I like strawberries” – a phrase which gains resonance later in the show.

Toksvig’s love of language continues in the second half, which could easily be seen as just an advert for Toksvig’s latest book, Valentine Grey, but ultimately becomes so much more. The book revolves around the story of a woman who decides to disguise herself as a man and enlist to fight in the Boer War, a storyline many could find unbelievable but that was inspired by a number of real life figures who made similar choices, and this is where the show becomes something more. Toksvig highlights these women, embracing their stories and imploring her audience to read up on the remarkable characters behind them. One such woman, Nadezhda Durova, rose to the rank of Captain in the Russian Cavalry during the Napoleonic Wars. Upon discovery of her secret, rather than being criminalised as one might have expected of time, she was awarded further medals for her role. (Her story can be read in the translation of her journals, The Cavalry Maiden).

Alas, Sandi barely pauses for breath as she regales us with these tales and, having come for a comedy show and not a lecture, remembering all of the details proves nigh on impossible. But that doesn’t diminish the power of the stories or the passion Toksvig has for them, and neither does it weigh against the enjoyment of the show. Toksvig is a master communicator and spending two hours in her company is a pure joy.

(This is a slightly expanded version of my review originally written for the What The Frock blog. What The Frock is a Bristol based women’s comedy night (the comedians are female, the audience is mixed) run by my friend Madam J-Mo. Madam J-Mo’s blog is full of interesting, engaging and amusing pieces on pop culture, feminism and suffrage and is well worth a read.)