Review: Whoopi Goldberg - Stand Up Live! at the London Palladium

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Whoopi Goldberg performing at the Valley Forge Casino, Pennsylvania in 2015
Whoopi Goldberg performing at the Valley Forge Casino, Pennsylvania in 2015 Credit: Rex

Hurricane Whoopi blew in from the States through the heart of the West End on Saturday night, unleashing not an icy deluge but a spike in temperature and gales of laughter.

For the first time in her more than 30-year career, American comedy legend Whoopi Goldberg treated London to her stand-up. 

Her mother died while she was at the Palladium in 2010, starring as Mother Superior in Sister Act the musical, causing her to leave the run abruptly.

As she immediately told the crowd – who kept whooping like it was going out of fashion - when the idea of making a return to the UK was suggested, she heard her mom telling her to get her “black ass” on the plane (or else).

Her 90-minute turn (reprised late-night to cope with demand) didn’t dwell on matters sentimental, though. Nor was it especially political.

Looking at ease in stripy leggings, white smock-shirt and booties, as if padding her own apartment (albeit her adopted first-name was emblazoned in massive red lettering behind her, backed by a shimmery star-scape), she passed breezy comment on the crazy state of the world, refusing to mention the new incumbent in the White House by name, thanking the Brits for “the marches”: “We thought never in a million years the guy on the Apprentice was going to be the President.”

Credit: Timothy White

 But it was her physical changes, as she heads into her sixties, and finds herself a great grand-mother, that provided most of the initial mirth, much of the material the ribald stuff of a late-night Woman’s Hour: “I once was the hottest thing in the room. Now I’m the hottest thing in the room because I am in menopause… They don’t mention your behind is going to spread and drop – your chest is going to lift and fall!”

On paper that might sound like a pedestrian whinge, but Goldberg’s facial expressiveness, and casual physicalizing emphasis, gave it delightful heft.

Ardent fans might have lamented the lack of any of the character shtick with which she first made her name as a budding actress. This was stand-up pure and simple and very much “an audience with”, almost inviting heckles.

There was no over-riding theme – just the towering presence of her Empire State-sized personality.

We got a smorgasbord of apercus, some prompted by already-garnered audience questions – youthful misdemeanours, favourite jokes, her adoration of the Queen, her mystification at Theresa May (“Who’s the Prime Minister?”), oh and her desire to be the first female Doctor Who.

Famous for her drug-use back in the day, she recommended the consolations of marijuana – no surprise there perhaps, though Queen Victoria’s reliance on cannabis will have been news to many. There was a long but inspiring digression on her finally fulfilled desire to be on Star Trek.

Was she massively indulged? Sure. Did she deserve to be? Ditto. “I don’t know if they’re going to let me back in when I go back!”, she said at the end. Judging by the rapturous standing ovation she got, more than a few of her fans are half-praying she’ll be stuck here for the duration of the Trump era.

Rating: four stars