Saturday, 13 February 2021

REVIEW: Suitcase Under the Stairs at the Greenwich Theatre (Online)

Drag has become a mainstream entertainment with the RuPaul Drag Race UK on TV and the recent Deathdrop at the Garrick which was closed prematurely by Covid. Its raunchy over the top no holds barred style has a strong following and the performers project a glamorous image. But what is like behind the makeup and clothes? Suitcase under the stairs takes into a toilet used as a dressing room of a club where Rose XO has just completed her act. Slowly the man behind the performer is revealed as he peels back the layers he hides behind on stage.

Rose is a confident unstoppable scary woman, six foot seven tall in her black high heeled boots, she is her own woman when in the pink spotlight. Tonight, her offstage partner Matthew is in the audience and when she treats him like any other punter with her acerbic bitchy putdowns he walks out. It is a shame we don’t see more of the one-stage persona and performance which obviously contrasts sharply with the real-life man behind the creation.

Lewis Pickles plays the drag queen returning to the “dressing room” to redress for civvy street and upset by Matthew’s reaction. It is clear that there are three people in the relationship and that Matthew is not comfortable with Rose. As the wig, hairnet, nails, and clothes come off we slowly see the real person. Introverted, nervy, well-spoken, acknowledging that he is not the best drag queen in a crowded circuit but using it as an escape and for the money. He gets emotional when he recalls his mother. His stage confidence ebbs away when he takes off the eyelashes, “without them then I am naked like a clown without his nose”. 

We watch as he slowly packs away Rose in a suitcase to return under the stairs until the next time but hopes that one day Rose will die and no longer be needed. He presents a sad insecure figure when the mask is off, his reflections become rambling and he admits to crying after every show in the past. It presents an interesting insight into a way of life that perhaps many actors feel and are missing now. The adulation and confidence they feel when the greasepaint and spotlights are on is sharply contrasted by the self-doubt, vulnerability, and insecurity they feel offstage and their need for reassurance and support. 

I found this an interesting and revealing forty-five minutes but felt it could have been enhanced more by seeing the on-stage performer and found the use of the zoom screen confusing with sound effects seemingly added from a different black screen or pre-recorded inserts. It was live and started seven minutes late without explanation, but the creators Lewis Pickles and Lauren Tranter (who also directed) did appear at the end and encourage feedback! I would say good effort and worth putting a bit more into the production, perhaps seeing Rose watching himself undressing in a split-screen after watching the man watch his alter ego on stage from the wings to bring out the dual personality even more clearly and effectively.

Review by: Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Online | Price of Ticket: Pay what you can

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