The Slow Drag

Saturday, 15 November, 1997

Billy married and did not tell his wife he was a woman until after they were wed. His wife kept Billy's secret, but she had sex with other men and had children by them, which Billy brought up as his own. Billy kept his real identity so secret that at the time of his death only his wife knew, not even his children or best friend of over 40 years had any idea. The reason Billy began her sexual masquerade was that she wanted to be a jazz musician, but in the 1930s, men had more chance of succeeding than women did.

With such a fascinating story I was disappointed that the show did not go deep enough into the life of Billy. We are not told at exactly what point Billy told his wife about his gender, other than it was after they had wed. Neither were we given any reason why his wife June stayed with Billy when she had found out. It appears that his wife was not a lesbian because she went with men and bore three children, but it was unclear whether Billy was? It seems Billy was celibate, and thus may only have wanted June for companionship. At the end of the show I knew nothing more about Billy Tipton than I did at the start.

The story may have been a let down when it came to details, but nevertheless it is still a fascinating subject that makes compulsive viewing. It is the powerful performances that make the show worth seeing.

Liza Sadovy, who plays Johnny Christmas (as Tipton is called), looked just like a man when she came on stage. She was very convincing, even if she did over do the mannerisms a little. This is a challenging and difficult role for her, but she pulls it off wonderfully. (Liza last appeared in the West End playing Jenny in 'Company' at the Donmar and Albery theatres.) Kim Criswell who plays Billy's wife, June Wedding, is the star of the show with a big presence and a big voice to match. She has such powerful magnetism and wonderful movement. Christopher Colquhoun who plays Billy's best friend 'Chester Kent' puts in an adequate performance and radiates a pleasant aura and personality that the audience warms to.

The show received reasonable notices from the popular press. BILL HAGERTY of THE NEWS OF THE WORLD calls the show a " fascinating, rewarding evening." LIZA MARTLAND calls it a "diverting piece of theatre." NICHOLAS DE JONGH of THE EVENING STANDARD was luke warm, describing the show as a "clumsy though well-cast production." PATRICK MARMION of TIME OUT did not care for the show saying it was confusing and was "neither a story nor a concert." THE DAILY TELEGRAPH reviewer enjoyed the show, particularly Kim Criswell's performance, saying the play "can reasonably be described as a great little show."

Lasting one and half-hours without an interval, The Slow Drag is a delightful musical, with a bizarre story that makes for a pleasant evening's entertainment.

(Darren Dalglish)

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