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Review: The Ruby Slippers at Royal Court Studio ***

With the city’s buildings being lit in rainbow colours, and Liverpool Pride taking place this weekend, it seems an ideal time to revisit Emma Culshaw and David Paul’s flamboyant comedy.

The Ruby Slippers was a hit at the old Lantern Theatre, and later enjoyed runs in St Helens and at the Epstein. Now it’s come to the Royal Court’s splendid new Studio space.

Their titular Ruby Slippers is a drag club on its uppers and under threat from both a glitzier rival and the siren call of a supermarket redeveloper’s chequebook.

If that wasn’t enough, highly-strung owner Raz (James Rogerson) has spent years holding a candle for his gentle flatmate Ryan (Kurtis Stacey), but is the feeling reciprocated? Or will Ryan’s own long-kept secret muddy the emotional waters even further?

Culshaw and Paul’s script is a mix of high drama, courtesy of its exotic – and potty-mouthed – drag queens, crowd-pleasing physical comedy scenes, and pertinent questions about sexuality, belonging and acceptance.

Raz (James Rogerson) with friend Laura (Emma Vaudrey) and drag queens Destiny and Phoenix

Thus, the elements are there. And when this new production is firing on all cylinders – mostly during key scenes in the second half – there’s much to both enjoy and ponder.

There are other times however when it currently feels like a show that’s still in search of its groove.

The first half needs more va-va-voom to spring it out of second gear.

And there also needs to be a more convincing sense of emotional connection between Raz and Ryan, otherwise the ensuing events don’t have the impact they should.

Ryan/Rachel (Kurtis Stacey) with mum Helen (Debra Redcliffe). All photos by David Munn

Jordan Simms and Owen Richard Farrow are great theatrical value as the gazelle-like naif Phoenix and her long-suffering double act partner Destiny – a sort of Drag Queen Morecambe and Wise.

Like the show in general, it takes them a while to get in to their stride, but when they do it’s a whole lot of fun.

Meanwhile the storyline surrounding Stacey’s transgender character Ryan/Rachel is sensitively handled, and there’s a monologue from his free-spirited mum (Debra Redcliffe) that goes straight to the heart.

All in all, The Ruby Slippers is on the yellow brick road and heading in the right direction for the Emerald City, but there are still a few wicked witches to vanquish along the way.

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