It’s no mean undertaking getting a new play up and running. To have one that’s been so warmly received as The Ruby Slippers, which appeared at The Epstein Theatre in Liverpool amidst the hullabaloo of Bonfire Night, is something of a triumph in itself. And for the most part, the warm reception is richly deserved.
The Ruby Slippers Drag Club in Blackpool is under threat. Nine Inches has opened up down the road and is luring Raz’s customers – and artistes – away by the truckload. Added to this are the constant offers from the Asco Supermarket chain to bulldoze the place. Raz is reluctant to sell for more than personal reasons; personal reasons that are about to be turned on their head by a surprise announcement.
The set is beautifully designed. The interior of a bar, replete with lip shaped seats, copious amounts of alcohol and the ubiquitous faulty neon sign hanging above the counter. There’s an epic sound system, too, which is used to the maximum for the momentous dance moves that are pulled off throughout.
The first half is a little ponderous, although James Rogerson as Raz is unquestionably the life and soul even when he’s down in the dumps. Superb too as his love interest is the conflicted Ryan played by Jamie Paul. The two bounce well off each other even in their darker moments, and there is a very real rapport which makes the scenario even more credible.
As the too-nice supermarket area manager Laura, Emma Vaudrey – who as Emma Culshaw co-wrote the show – excels, particularly when it comes to the scene in which an early snifter turns into something else altogether, and her fun levels soar on the dance floor.
As Ryan’s free-spirited mum, Helen, Debra Redcliffe is all quiet composure when necessary and very dynamic when called for. The polar opposite of Owen Farrow and Jordan Simms as drag Queens Destiny and Phoenix, who deserve a round of applause for staying upright on their stilt-esque heels, let alone pulling the moves they do without breaking a leg or four!
The action is slick, the delivery is polished, some of the lines are laugh-out-hilarious and the darker moments are constructed well, but never burden the proceedings. The message of the play – which will not be revealed here, obviously – is one that’s important enough to be spoken of, although never becomes a mantra or a lecture and is treated with subtlety and care.
All in all, The Ruby Slippers is a well produced, well acted, cleverly written and heart warming show that gets off to a bit of a simmering start but soon crackles into an absolute sparkler in the end.
The Ruby Slippers
The Epstein Theatre, Liverpool
November 5th, 2016
Authors: Emma Culshaw & David Paul
Director: Mark Heller
Producer: Bill Elms
Cast Includes: James Rogerson, Jordan Simms, Emma Vaudrey, Owen Farrow, Jamie Paul, Debra Redcliffe
Running Time: 2 hrs
PR Rating: **** Toto Fun