Sunday, 21 February 2016

Ruby Slippers – Lantern Theatre Liverpool – 20/02/2016

Ruby Slippers is Break a Leg Productions’ debut play, written by Emma Culshaw and David Paul, and directed by Jackie Downey and saw its sell-out premiere performance at the Lantern Theatre on Saturday.

James Rogerson plays Raz, the owner of The Ruby Slippers drag club. He presides from behind a bar adorned with a pair of said slippers and photographs of his movie idols, who age him a little for some of his mystified younger patrons. Many have defected to a new bar down the street along with most of his star acts, leaving the business on the rocks.

Loyal drag queens Destiny and Phoenix (Owen Farrow & Jordan Sims) soldier on amid worries for the future of the club, but their more immediate concern is to sort out Raz’s love life once and for all. Everyone can see that he and his new flatmate Ryan have fallen for each other in a big way, so why don’t the two of them get together? Ryan (Jamie Paul) has a secret, however, which makes everything far more complicated than it seems.

When Destiny and Phoenix force the issue Ryan’s revelation sets emotions running high, and the future becomes uncertain for everyone.

Ruby slippers is an important piece of writing, in that it tackles issues of prejudice from both inside and out of the LGBT community. What the authors have done, in one scene in particular, is to eloquently articulate confusions between sexuality and gender identity. What comes across well is the lack of understanding for the many differences and distinctions between gay, transvestite, drag queen and transgender, something which is paradoxically blurred by the inclusiveness of the term LGBT.

An important question we’re left with is to ask whether what Raz feels is prejudice or an understandable sense of loss – almost bereavement – as is suggested by another character in another emotional fulcrum of the work.

Rogerson hurls himself into the part of Raz with huge energy, while Debra Radcliffe gives a particularly strong and insightful performance as Helen, Ryan’s mother, whose lioness instinct leads her to deliver some of the best dialogue.

Jamie Paul has perhaps the hardest job to do as Ryan, torn between love and identity, and there are some scenes where he is simply left to play mute vulnerability. The intention seems to be to highlight his internal dilemma but the effect, occasionally, is to arrest the dramatic flow.

Farrow and Simms (the former also known on the Manchester drag scene as Divina De Campo) bring us glamour, certainly, but also carry some pretty weighty writing too. There is a strangely camp but very witty performance from Emma Vaudrey, who delivers a parallel narrative thread that drives the play to a resolution.

This weekend’s three performances at the Lantern have all sold out, and the play has a planned series of future appearances across the North West. The first of these is at Manchester’s KIKI in Canal Street next Sunday, 28th February. Watch out for further dates coming up, with the play returning to Liverpool at the Epsein Theatre in the autumn.

 This review was originally written for and published by Seen Liverpool.
James Rogerson and Jamie Paul - Rehearsal photo (c) Jane Macneil

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