Thursday, July 7

DDDivas – Unity Theatre

We all know there are plenty of fully-developed, full-length theatrical productions that feel utterly impenetrable to an audience not ‘in the know’. How wonderful then to report that DDDivas, a short 10-minute selection of new material still in development, is beautifully and heartbreakingly lucid.

DDDivas – which also has the working title of Ruby’s Slippers – is described as a fictional telling of real events from the life of neuro-divergent, disabled performer Elaine Collins. The audience finds Elaine’s character Ruby on an empty, unlit stage dancing alone to Cyndi Lauper. Dressed from head to toe in colour and glitter, Ruby is, quite literally, the light in the darkness. It’s obvious from the off though that the pink tights, silver bow and purple arm warmers mask a less happy truth.

After a fourth-wall breaking warning that “this show is going to be a teensy bit different”, Collins is joined by fellow performer-cum-ventriloquist dummy (Andrew McKay) for an end of the pier style musical number. McKay and Collins soft-shoe shuffle to lyrics about finding another’s ‘words in my mouth’ and saying ‘goodbye showbusiness’. Patrick Dineen’s incredibly accomplished song perfectly taps into the strangely haunting nature of vaudeville that is a constant presence behind the jollity and painted smiles.

The tone quickly shifts. Collins tells us she is in Eddie’s caravan, while McKay’s character is sitting at a dressing table, light up mirror in hand, getting into drag. The barely concealed darkness at the heart of the story is now centre stage. Collins’ subsequent monologue is part confession, part release. The act of freeing coloured, caged birds feels like a rather heavy-handed metaphor so it’s gratifying to know from the subsequent Q&A that this is an event that actually happened.

The post-show discussion reveals DDDivas is based on Collins’ experiences of abuse in the entertainment industry and a lack of stage space for diverse voices. It is, though, an explanation that isn’t needed. In just a few minutes the audience is fully aware thanks to wonderful performances and brilliant direction from Nina Hajiyianni.

The show was presented at the Unity Theatre as part of the venue’s Open Call Programme to support artists after the pandemic. It will also form part of Liverpool’s well-established disability and deaf arts event DaDaFest. It may be short but it’s clear the team is onto something. People will absolutely want to seek out the fully developed production when it’s ready.

Reviewer: Peter Ruddick

Reviewed: 19th November 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★