C I b r s C a r s

. 9” '

Back on the road for the first time in a decade, FRENCH AND SAUNDERS have found inspiration in Steps. But playing the fame game can be a dangerous bUSiflESS. Words: Mark Fisher

MEETING DAWN FRENCH AND JENNIFER SAUNDERS IN THE flesh is disconcerting. They‘ye become such liying-room fixtures oyer twenty years -- what with The ('umii' Strip l’rvsmls . . .. (Hr/s ()n 70/). French and .S'uumh'rs. Absolute/y“ l'it/m/uus. The Hair ()f‘l)ih/<{\'. .lltu‘rh'r .llus‘l llurrid. all the (‘omic Relief stuff and that advert for 'l'erry‘s (‘hocolate ()range —- that you forget you‘re not actually personal friends with them. And then when you do meet them. they are exactly as you expect them to he.

Well. perhaps Dawn is a tad shorter. a little less guarded. a wee hit more bubbly. and you realise that Jennifer is not so much reseryed as thoughtful and easily the match for her ehullient partner. hut these qualities only set‘ye to make them more like themselyes. What are they like'.’ They're exactly like they are.

And they know it. .\'e\'er far from the surface of their new stage show a feelgood eyening of sketch- hased surrealism. hig-screen entertainment and dressing up —- is the idea that this is lirench and Saunders the celebrity douhle-act. the two you’ve seen on telly. the two you‘ye read in the tabloids supposedly insanely jealous of each other's solo success. the two you feel you'll know when you meet them hackstage. And they make merry with this hlttr between the public and the priyate. The first thing on stage is a TV'.

l.ike Moreeamhe and Wise before them. l‘rench and Saunders slyly suhyert the rules of celebrity. Where liric and lirnie hrottght Angela Rippon. Des ()'(‘onnor and Andre Preyin into their hermetic world. Dawn and Jennifer throw the likes of Posh Spice. .lerry llall. Joan Bakewell and this time - Sinead (‘tisack into the mix. They are one part court jester. one part Hello magazine.

Yet they themselyes are a cog in the same celehrity machine and when it turns against them —~ as ineyitahly it does ~ it leaves a hitter taste. Take Dawn French: The Biography. a hook just puhlished hy ex-Sim feature writer Alison Bowyer. The ultimate in cuttings johs. it‘s a loyeless tahloid—eyc-yiew of fame. a world where every emotion is guessed at and magnified. a landscape of jealousy. infidelity. infertility and personal tragedy. real or imagined. Mesmerised hy li'rench's weight. fascinated by her adopted daughter. fixated on her relationship with Lenny llenry. it says all hut nothing about what makes her ftmny. l'd assumed l‘rench would haye ignored it. hut not so.

‘I had to read it to decide whether I was going to sue or not.' she says. flopped on a sofa post-show in their Newcastle dressing room. looking cheery enough despite it all. ‘I had ahottt 40 reasons to sue and l was prepared to. and then I thought it’s actually had karma. It’s been the