Betty Legs Diamond, the drag creation of Simon Green, is one of the founding members of Blackpool club Funny Girls but left in 2010 after 16 years apparently due to interfering producers. Since then she has taken up residency in Newcastle’s Boulevard. I saw her Betty Legs Diamond Show at Leicester Square Theatre when she took it down to London for a three-day midweek run between her Newcastle commitments.
This is not a drag show – this is a dance show. Apart from a few comedic grunts, Diamond doesn’t speak. She spends the entire time dancing or changing her costume. The performance opens with a dance medley based on hit musical Chicago and Diamond is joined on stage at various moments by the seven members of her supporting dance troupe. The dancing is good – tight, well-rehearsed and interesting. As choreographer, Diamond’s West End experience really shows: the dance formations are classic to the genre. Where her West End experience ends is also evident – the dancing doesn’t seem to have moved on since she left in 1984. Nonetheless she is a limber, accomplished dancer.
Watching these themed medleys is entertaining for the first couple. Three hours and nine – yes, nin – medleys later I find myself itching to escape. Apart from the highly amusing Sound of Music piece, for which Diamond is well known, her medleys show little in the way of choreographic or comedic variation. Even Dame Edna knew you had to do more than just contort your lips at the right moment. There are even several dismal fart jokes. Diamond’s physique is masculine, her make-up not glamorous, and she keeps pulling her own wig off – is this drag? Adding to the tedium is the obscurity of some of the songs Diamond has chosen to dance to including numbers from failed or niche musicals.
Thankfully respite is provided between medleys in the form of Miss Rory, the hostess. Miss Rory, who claims to be 24 years old, is everything you hope for in a drag queen. Her quick wit, scathing jokes and acid response to hecklers adds much welcome relief from the onslaught of dance she introduces. Even the few numbers Miss Rory joins in the dancing are enriched by her humour as she steals the limelight from Diamond. The only improvement Miss Rory could make is to invest a little more in her wardrobe – I know she’s a Geordie but even angels of the North deserve some taste. Miss Rory works the crowd flawlessly until she gets the signal that Diamond is ready. Then she gives a scripted introduction at odds with the shtick she has just been giving.
The staging is poor and awkwardly stuck between that of a church hall (having the front row entirely occupied by Diamond’s family including Auntie Jean and her mum Carol didn’t much help) and a cabaret bar. With only video screens and an occasional jet of smoke, the Variety Show does not have the atmosphere Diamond appears to aspire to. The costumes are elaborate and creative, especially for the grand finale.
The entire production seems be for the self-indulgent benefit of Diamond. No show needs to be three hours long, especially when it’s peddling the same format over and over again. There are several golden moments but the comedy is otherwise stale and the choreography even staler. The venue was poorly chosen and the staging cheap. Give this a miss and wait for Miss Rory to go solo.
Betty Legs Diamond. Leicester Square Theatre, London WC2H 7BX. 9 September. www.leicestersquaretheatre.com