Let’s get the minor criticisms out of the way from this genuinely good production first: the script is sometimes a little hackneyed, the dialogue slightly clichéd and I did find myself asking why set a play leading up to the 1969 Stonewall riots in a bar around the corner from the Stonewall Bar, and not in the Stonewall Bar itself?
But these niggling details aside, what you do have before you here is a thoroughly involving story and, I might go so far as to say, some of the most fantastic acting to be witnessed the Vauxhall side of the West End. Michael Edwards as ‘Ruby’, the dishonourably discharged Vietnam soldier who becomes an alcoholic drag queen in the lower East Side of New York, lights up the stage with his charisma and cadence of presence.
The other disparate characters who populate this dimly lit mafia-run bar are equally brought to live by a talented, lively cast who are highly enjoyable to watch spark and pinball off one another. Perhaps in lesser hands these characters might have come across as two-dimensional. It’s hardly a strike for feminism that the one female character has ‘always dreamed of working in the hat department of Macy’s’.
However, Nigel Barber as the angry bar owner in league with the mob, James El-Sharawy as the vulnerable teenage rentboy trying to play with the big boys, Stephanie Willson as the single mother looking after the gays, Rhys Jennings as the cop who falls for her and Oliver Lynes as the Wall Street trader caught between Ruby and his high-pressured job, were all hard to fault. At times you forget that you are watching people playing out a story, which is surely what the best of theatre is about.
• Above the Stag Theatre, Arch 17, Miles Street, Vauxhall, SW8 1SF
• Running until Sunday 30th March. Tues – Sat 7.30pm, Sun 6pm. £18.