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  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
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    French & Saunders - Live
    Universal/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 106 mins . M15+ . PAL


    French and Saunders Live, not surprisingly, stars Dawn Vicar of Dibley French and Jennifer Absolutely Fabulous Saunders. It was filmed at the Bristol Hippodrome in 2000, and is one of several French and Saunders related DVD titles that have begun to appear in Region 4.

    French and Saunders have been friends since their days at the London Central School of Speech and Drama, and formed their comedy partnership very soon after. Their friendship has remained strong ever since, and rarely do they work apart. This is rather ironic as their biggest successes are those mentioned above, both essentially solo efforts. Their successful television show, French and Saunders has been around for years, and has spawned a whole range of VHS and now DVD releases. How successful they are on stage is less certain, especially to fans in Australia. This DVD certainly has its clever moments, some wry observations, wit and a few decent laughs, but I would be reluctant to form any lasting conclusions from viewing this one performance.

    The girls have incorporated some clever gags, with an intriguing and minimalist stage set up, but too often they drag a sketch on for longer than is needed, and the joke loses some of its punch. They also seem, at times, to be searching for an ending to a sketch that is starting to drift, and too frequently they drop out of character to have a little "French versus Saunders" stoush. This really only works once or twice, but they keep visiting the same well.

    There are some funny moments in the show, and some cleverly edited video pieces that are a nice change of pace and quite amusing. They also perform some clever sketches using a combination of video and live stage work, but several sketches fall too short of the mark for me to claim this is one of the funnier routines I have seen. I think it is fair to say that French and Saunders do parody a whole lot better than they do comedy, especially stage comedy. At 105 minutes, the girls would have been wiser to chop a few sketches and bring this back to 80 or so minutes. It would have been more consistent.

    Trivia Spot. Jennifer Saunders is married to Adrian Edmondson (Vyvyan from The Young Ones), and Dawn French is married to Lenny Henry (fellow British comedian... big guy, black, deep voice!) plus, French and Saunders, and Lenny Henry, all appeared in The Young Ones, the girls more than once.


    This release picks up bonus points for the video transfer. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. Being a stage show, there are not a lot of sets and therefore a limited number of camera angles, but it has been well filmed and edited. The colours are very natural and have not been oversaturated at all. Skin tones are accurate, and there is good contrast. There is no evidence of colour-bleeding or cross colouration. This is a very clean transfer with no artefacts, and no chroma or low-level noise. Blacks are good, though minimal as the stage is frequently bathed in bright white stage lighting, and shadow detail is irrelevant as there is nowhere in the show where shadows are present. There was one instant of aliasing, but even that was barely noticeable.

    The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 which is adequate for a release such as this. The surround and centre speakers are not utilised, nor is the subwoofer. There would have been nothing gained from their inclusion so this is not an issue. There is some separation from the left and right front speakers to mirror the performers on stage, but as most action is centre stage, so is most of the sound. There is little to no accompanying music or loud noises, so low frequency sounds are irrelevant. There are no real problems with audio, other than some barely noticeable drops in volume, but this is because the performers are wearing hidden microphones, and not a fault of the transfer. All dialogue is clear and there are no problems with synchronisation. Fortunately, neither of French or Saunders' accents is particularly broad, as there are no subtitles provided.

    There are no extras other than the ability to Select a Sketch and an option to begin the show from the second half, just after intermission. Why anyone would want to do that I don’t know. The same starting point can be selected from the Select A Sketch feature so it seems even more pointless.

    I have a certain amount of respect for French and Saunders, as they can be very biting and very funny, but they are at their best when they take the ‘proverbial' out of that which needs it. Live, they have to rely more heavily on dialogue, and it has always been their visual comedy that is stronger. They can still raise a few smiles and the odd chuckle, but again, mostly when Dawn French moves into the realm of the site gag. Jennifer Saunders, when reduced to dialogue, begins to fall repeatedly into Edina Monsoon mannerisms and frantic delivery. It is obvious they have a strong friendship, and enjoy working together, but great comedy teams are successful for reasons beyond just friendship. Great comedy teams also have incredible timing, understanding, variety, and depth of material. French and Saunders have done better, and as such I would recommend this to fans only.

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  •   And I quote...
    "The Queens of British comedy make the transition to the stage, with mixed results..."
    - Terry Kemp
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