WOW Festival: Mirth Control With Sandi Toksvig

By Sarah Leeves |

By Sarah Leeves

For the fourth year running, Southbank Centre’s WOW – Women of the World Festival has produced a programme of phenomenal events and guests; Malala Yousafzai, Ronnie Spector and Vivienne Westwood to name but a few great women. As with every WOW festival, Sandi Toksvig presents an evening celebrating the achievements of women and this year was no exception; Mirth Control was wondrous, melodious, uplifting and here’s why.

To coincide with the centenary of the First World War, the evening celebrated women of the period. As Sandi said, the show was “a bit silly but packed full of information you didn’t know you didn’t know” and we were treated to a multitude of musical performances, tales of heroism and a few very special guests.

The Royal Festival Hall is an acoustic delight and the all-female drumming ensemblem She Boom, opened the evening with a spectacular show of dynamic percussion. With real passion and rhythm, the ladies filled both hall and audience with infectious, foot-tapping beats. With an uplifted crowd, in came Sandi to rapturous applause.

Now, any fan of Sandi will know of her wit and superior knowledge of history. Not one to let anyone down, she treated us to a retelling of the First World War as it might have happened in a bar fight, where Germany and Italy were necking pints, Britain supping a sherry and Japan quietly playing snooker in the back room.

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Even the most hardcore of music fans may have been stumped by the composers we were treated to. The works of both Lilian Elkington and Dorothy Howell were masterfully executed by the all-female onstage orchestra, conducted by the extremely talented Jessica Cottis and a little-known lady called Sue Perkins (apparently she has something to do with cake?). To hear the music played by such a skilled ensemble was breathtaking and humbling, but to remember that both composers were very nearly forgotten by the music world seemed criminal.

Sharon D Clarke brought a soulful mix to the show, crooning the songs of Adelaide Hall. Granted she forgot the words to the first and had to restart (with the help of an audience member’s spectacles), but this only added to the comedic, laid-back atmosphere of the evening. As if Clarke’s voice wasn’t enough, she was accompanied by members of Southbank’s Voice Lab and Hackney Community Choir; talented, passionate and game for a laugh.

Comedian Jeremy Hardy gave food for thought with an interesting perspective on gender and it’s social constructions, actress Sheila Hancock recited The Sisters Buried at Lemnos (written by the late, great poet Vera Brittain) and stage-phenomenon Hannah Waddingham exercised her musical prowess, all under the watchful eye of Sandi, dressed in a rather “fetching but itchy” RAF uniform. Special thanks should be given to Jude Kelly; Artistic Director of Southbank Centre, without whom the event would not have been possible.

The whole evening was inspiring and entertaining, a true compliment to the achievements of women around the world. Lest we forget the fallen women, the ones who toil endlessly to make ends meet, the ladies who mend and make do and the girls who just want to have fun. We are all women of the world; we are all perfect, we should all be counted and we are all accomplished in our own special ways.

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Sarah enjoys coaching trampolining and drinking well-made mojitos… Not necessarily together. She writes columns for DIVA, reviews for her local paper and postcards for friends. Find her on Twitter: @sleevsie22