The Ruby Slippers – Arts Theatre, London

Writer: Emma Culshaw and David Paul
Director: Craig Ryder
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Is tolerance much harder when it’s someone you know? In theory rights and freedoms are all very well, especially when they don’t affect your day-to-day life but if someone you care about decides to live an alternative lifestyle, is that harder to accept? Emma Culshaw and David Paul’s show The Ruby Slippers examines the extent of acceptance among a community who’d already fought for their own rights and freedoms.

tell-us-block_editedRaz is the owner of the ailing Ruby Slippers nightclub, where his drag queens are leaving for the new 9-Inch club down the road and the local supermarket wants to buy his premises. Raz is also secretly in love with barman Ryan who feels the same but Ryan is about to transition into becoming a woman. With disaster looming at the club, will Raz sign his dream away to the big retailer, will he have to resurrect his old drag act to make ends meet, and will he ever accept Ryan as Rachel?

Culshaw and Paul have created quite a sweet show that gives a nice taster of life in a faded Blackpool club, while filling the stage with a cast of charming and likeable characters. At times, it has the feel of a kitchen-sink drama as the day-to-day problems and emotional trials of the bar staff are played out in an incongruous world of glitz, glamour and dangerously-high heels, while at others it wallows in the dazzling exuberance of its drag subjects with bits of routines danced to power ballads and disco classics.

Among the best scenes are a dance-off in Act One as drag queens Destiny and Phoenix put Raz through his paces to a medley of tunes to test his ability to return to the stage, while in Act Two there’s a disastrously show-stopping version of the Time of My Life sequence from Dirty Dancing as a drunk Raz and schoolfriend Laura attempt to recreate the famous sequence from their youth with hilariously inept results.

The writing is both humorous and warm, although it’s central message about tolerance is too quickly wrapped up after a series of unnecessary scenes that distract from the main story and there needs to be more focus on how Raz and Rachel claw back their relationship, and Raz’s difficulties in overcoming a personal prejudice could be more fully explored. The story is peppered with great lines but most of these belong to the bitchy drag queens, as one regrets giving up her change to be a “drag wag” with a footballer boyfriend, while insisting that “attention-seeking isn’t a crime, it’s an art form.”

Although the performances are occasionally a little wooden, the cast are clearly enjoying their roles. James Rogerson conveys Raz’s fatalistic side, always expecting the worst but with a touching affection for his club and admiration for the emotional strength of his hero Elizabeth Taylor. Rogerson and Jamie Paul as Ryan / Rachel have little chemistry but you do feel for the complexities of the situation and the sexual politics it creates.

Owen Farrow and Jordan Simms steal the show as Destiny and Phoenix mixing showy routines and fabulous costumes with plenty of cutting remarks, but they also have a fairy-godmother role in trying to bring Raz and Rachel together which gives them both plenty of heart beneath the haughty exteriors. Emma Vaudrey has a small but pivotal role as friend Laura, while Debra Redcliffe as Ryan’s mother shows everyone the cost and importance of acceptance.

While the show uses unnecessary microphones that lead to a few technical problems as the actors breath too heavily into them, The Ruby Slippers is a warm and affectionate look at love and tolerance. While you’re used to seeing people a certain way, that may not be who they, and this production sends you home wondering how accepting you really are.

Reviewed on 2 July 2017 | Image: Contributed

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Charming and likeable

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