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Bridget Christie on her menopause stand-up show, Who Am I?

Bridget Christie. Photo: Natasha Pszenicki
Bridget Christie. Photo: Natasha Pszenicki

Bridget Christie is going from triumph to triumph. Her Channel 4 comedy-drama The Change has won over critics and the public alike; and she’s about to take her menopause stand-up show, Who Am I? on tour. A hormone-waning life is to be celebrated – especially those occasions when she remembers nouns

‘Hello, Bridget?’

‘Katie? [Clearly notices my landline number on screen.] …Are you in Dursley?’

‘Nailsworth.’

‘Oh my god. I wanted to buy a house in Nailsworth!’

‘I love Nailsworth – do!’

‘I love Nailsworth, too!’

I glance down for a millisecond at my ‘Questions for Bridget Christie’, which range thoughtfully through comedy/feminism/menopause/women’s place in the world/folklore/existentialism/and – the biggie – whether or not feminists can truly justify a love for Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.

Well-researched, depth-ful questions, showcasing my immense seriousness and intellect.

‘Which are your favourite shops?’ I ask.

SO, LET’S BE HONEST HERE. Under normal circumstances (take it from me), the measure of menopausal success involves:

• Remembering why you came into a room without having to retrace your entire journey;

• Remembering why you might have opened the fridge (/where you keep the fridge);

• Having a hot flush just as the boiler breaks down;

• Managing not to see a cloud in every silver lining.

It’s rare, on the other hand, to get four-star reviews for your menopause.

Great British Life: Bridget Christie. Photo: Natasha PszenickiBridget Christie. Photo: Natasha Pszenicki

But Bridget Christie – about to go on tour with Who Am I? (her show about a ‘very rare’ condition that only affects ‘one in one woman’) – has done just that.

Wow! I say:

Unmenopausal Brian Logan of the Guardian called it ‘joyous, fervent and complex’. Dominic Maxwell (ditto, presumably) of the Times (referencing ‘Socratic dialogue’. I knew I should have slipped in a question about the School of Stoicism) sums it up with, ‘Job done, beautifully’.

It’s a relief, Bridget Christie nods, to have those reviews behind her. ‘I’m just going to go out and meet the audience; really have good fun! I can be loose and I can add stuff and take things away.’

The pressure is off because people love it?

Rookie question. (Of course not.)

‘Well, every audience is different, so I never have that mind-set. In fact, last night [a tour warm-up] the beginning went a bit wrong because I was supposed to come on to really loud showbiz music. I do this big dance; but the volume was too low!’

She laughs. (I’d have gone straight for PTSD myself.)

‘It sort of didn’t work and I had to improvise around it; but then I got it back, luckily.’

She loves doing shows; is really looking forward to the tour, even though: ‘I don’t like being away from home, I’ve got to be honest - but it’s my bread and butter… It’s not my bread and butter – it’s my main income. I don’t like being away from home or the kids.’

Umm. Home. So cue the question.

‘Who Am I?’ I mean, it’s such a good question. Because, let’s face it: as we age, women’s lives change exponentially in a way that – maybe I shouldn’t say it – men’s don’t.

‘You can say that and it’s true.’

I get that she’s spent untold hours at her desk writing this master… mistresspiece (doesn’t sound as right as I meant it to). Maybe even a desk at home. But how interesting that Bridget Christie gets to examine that question on stage…. In that, if a woman tries to examine who she is in her home, she kind of becomes a parody of a woman.

Great British Life: Bridget Christie as Linda in Channel 4's The Change. Photo: channel4.comBridget Christie as Linda in Channel 4's The Change. Photo: channel4.com

‘I think it’s absolutely crucial for women to hold on to something about themselves when they get married and have kids. It might be a hobby or some kind of work. So when I’m on stage, that’s been the thread that’s run through my life.’

She pauses to think further.

‘On stage, there’s sort of no time and no age. I don’t know if that makes sense?’

Completely.

‘And I would wish that on every person. You could have that if you loved weaving or knitting or – I don’t know. It’s a very important and – I’m trying to think…’

She trails off a moment.

‘I’m going to use the menopause as an excuse here.’

Please do. Seems relevant, somehow.

‘I’m trying to find the right…; not a ‘constant’… It can be a great source of strength to have something that is your own that you’ve had for a long time.’

Ah, yes. Menopause. That thing where all the thingies – you know, the naming words – pack their bags, move out of your head and retire to the seaside.

I’M NOT SURE HOW LONG it’s taken Bridget Christie to ‘do’ the menopause, but it took years for another of her recent triumphs – The Change on Channel 4 – to make it onto the screen.

Bridget Christie on creating her new show, The Change

‘I wasn’t in the menopause when I pitched the idea… it was originally about puberty,’ she said in a Woman’s Hour interview (that made me laugh a lot).

Great British Life: onica Dolan as Carmel, Susan Lynch as Agnes, Bridget Christie as Linda and Tanya Moodie as Joy in The Changeonica Dolan as Carmel, Susan Lynch as Agnes, Bridget Christie as Linda and Tanya Moodie as Joy in The Change (Image: Channel 4)

The Change is trademark Christie: intensely sharp comedy that lulls you into thinking deeply about the issues it’s satirising, all wrapped up in a blanket of sheer humanity.

It begins with Linda, played by Christie, turning 50. ‘There are a couple of niggly things,’ she tells her GP. ‘I think I might have early-onset dementia and osteoporosis, ringing in my ears when I’m stressed, and anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease and a strange mental disorder involving loss of nouns. [See above.]’

‘This all sounds like the menopause to me, Linda’, says the GP whose menopausal wife has taken up extreme climbing. ‘Some women find the shift in hormones liberating.’

Linda’s response is to get on a motorbike, leave (temporarily) her husband and children (along with the chore register she keeps; a ledger detailing 20 years of dusting, laundry, cooking, cleaning; things no one ever seems to notice) to return to her childhood haunt: the Forest of Dean where, as a little girl, she hid a time capsule in a tree.

‘She is going back to find that time capsule; but she’s also going back to see if that triggers any memories for her of who she was. Who was that girl who was climbing up that tree? Where is that person?’

Besides which, a time capsule is a real metaphor.

‘Exactly. I read a lot about time capsules when I was writing. Loads of heart-warming, quite moving and profound stories in like the Daily Mirror about a group of middle-aged women who’d buried time capsules when they were at school. And they’d gone back to find them. [Time capsule from the 1990s holds scarily accurate predictions for group of mates. (I look it up)]. I find it really powerful and moving.’

Fascinating, too, that she chose the Forest of Dean as Linda’s default finding-herself place. As anyone who has ever been there will tell you, you cross an invisible line into the 1960s when you step through the trees.

A time capsule within a time capsule.

Great British Life: Bridget Christie. Photo: Natasha PszenickiBridget Christie. Photo: Natasha Pszenicki

‘It totally is. I genuinely cannot talk about how much I love the Forest of Dean enough. I feel like when I’m there I get butterflies. There’s something magical about it. It’s the trees; it’s the people; it’s the vibe; it’s memories. It’s not been gentrified; it’s not been built up.

‘I try to explain it to people and they’re like, ‘I’m going to have to go!’ And they go and say, ‘I know exactly what you mean now. There isn’t anywhere like it.’’

The Forest was – as she was growing up – right on Bridget Christie’s Gloucester doorstep. The youngest of nine children born to Irish Catholic parents, her early years didn’t automatically signal a future comedian freely discussing menopause/sex/feminism. ‘We weren’t even allowed to look [at our genitals] during a full solar eclipse when it went dark.’

Who knows when the seeds of feminism were sown. Perhaps when she was sacked by a farmer in Frampton-on-Severn in 1986, ‘who just laughed at me out of his kitchen window all day… I fed the cows gravel and crashed his tractor.’

In fact, her mum, an auxiliary nurse and spokesperson for the National Union of People’s Employees, was a big supporter, encouraging Bridget to have a career from an early age.

Actually, come to think of it, the very act of being born in Gloucester didn’t automatically signal a liberating future, though Bridget does – in her semi-autobiographical 2015 A Book for Her – credit both Gloucestershire County Council for giving her a grant to study drama (the only such grant in her year), and Gloucester Operatic and Dramatic Society for services unspecified.

But the moment those feminists seeds fully bloomed is a seminal one hilariously described in A Book for Her. It’s not so much a long-winded tale as a pungently winded one, involving a flatulent man in the Women’s Studies section of a bookshop.

She writes with brilliantly parodic flair about feminists. You know, the women who ‘never have sex and hate men opening doors for them, even into other dimensions.’ Feminists: who ban Christmas, birthdays, wallpaper, nuance, giving people the benefit of the doubt and all music (other than k.d. lang’s Constant Craving, obviously).

Who hate all men because they’re rapists. ‘Even half the French language are rapists, all those masculine words, raping all the feminine ones.’

(At least we’ve put to bed (metaphorically speaking), thank god, her 2015 question: Why clever women – who should know better – fancy Boris Johnson. Fab that some things date.)

(NB, ‘date’, not date.)

Great British Life: Sophie, Chris, Greg, Judi, Alex, Ardal and Bridget Christie in Taskmaster, series 13. Photo: channel4.comSophie, Chris, Greg, Judi, Alex, Ardal and Bridget Christie in Taskmaster, series 13. Photo: channel4.com

Long before Taskmaster or Annie from Ghosts, Bridget Christie became known as the stand-up who made feminism funny.

Actually, that’s reductive.

The stand-up who skilfully brought feminism centre-stage.

BRIDGET CHRISTIE IS 52. Hormones might have nosedived but life is taking off.

The Change has been a game-changer – and not, she is hopeful, a one-off series.

‘I’ve never written for screen or TV before and I found the whole process life-changing.’

Life-changing how?

‘The things I thought about in order to make this programme. People I met; the experiences I had. What it said about the world and my place in it. It was such a privilege and it was so right.

‘And the way I was able to kind of step away from it and see it as its own thing and be proud of it and be able to take myself out of the equation.

Great British Life: Bridget Christie in C4's Taskmaster, S13. Photo: channel4.comBridget Christie in C4's Taskmaster, S13. Photo: channel4.com

‘Somebody asked me before broadcast, ‘Are you nervous?’ I said, with my hand on my heart, there is not an ounce of nervousness in me. It did its best. If it fails, it fails on its own terms.’

What would she like to come out of it – and out of her tour – long-term? What would she like to change the perception of?

‘I feel like the menopause should be celebrated. I’m like, Christ; I’ve got here! In the last three months, I’ve had a mammogram and a smear and they’ve both come back clear. And I just feel that I’m there, alive; I don’t have mental health [issues]. I feel so grateful to be alive.

‘And I feel that the things most of us worry about are so superficial; and that we can’t see what’s around us, which is magic and beauty and wonder and all of these things that the natural world and people give us.’

So, to make life complete, just a move to Nailsworth, then.

READ MORE: Why you should move to Nailsworth

She’s coming to the area shortly to meet with Boss Morris – Stroud’s all-female Morris dancing side – who helped create the wonderful folklore aspect of The Change. (And NB that fab Susan Lynch, who lives in Dursley, plays Agnes of the Eel Café.)

Besides which, Nailsworth has some amazing independent shops…

‘I know! There’s that deli at the bottom. And a sweetshop as well. And the café at the back of the deli…’

• Bridget Christie’s Who Am I? will be at the Spa Centre, Royal Leamington Spa on November 10: bridgetchristie.co.uk



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