There’s something slightly magical about seeing Thelma Ruby take to the stage once more. 92 years and a wealth of stories made for a dense hour interspersed with some fine solo performances (as well as a single song recited by musical accompaniment John Williams, tinkling away on the ivories), and by the end of the night you could only leave slightly astounded by Ruby’s sheer dedication to her craft, entertaining a densely packed out King’s Head crowd to the point of standing ovation with her experiences.
Ruby has been nothing short of prolific. Her career, spanning the globe numerous times over, has seen tours with Orson Welles, Judi Dench, as well as performances done in the midst of Apartheid South Africa or throughout Japan. Every moment, recounted with a loving charm and vibrancy by Ruby, came to life in an entirely anecdotal manner – a choice facial expression or eye roll being more than enough to give this show what it needed to succeed – heart.
If anything, the qualms come in the fact that the sheer dearth of content made nothing ever feel entirely satisfying – by the end of the show we craved only to learn more, to bury deeper than the very tip of the iceberg (fortunately Ruby’s autobiography can offer some relief on that front).
Music wise we get renditions of songs both old and (slightly more) new – favourites from Cabaret, Fiddler on the Roof are matched by more vintage tunes, some even going back to the early 20th century. Being, perhaps, one of the youngest in the room these tunes may not have plucked the same sentimental nerve that was available to others, but the effect was palpable – many nodding their heads on recognition or excitement for the next song to begin.
If Ruby has proved one thing, it’s that age should never be a factor when it comes to judging a performer’s quality. She has a deep, sharp understanding of the effects of her craft, and doesn’t simply regale us with her songs and stories, but acknowledges the didactic underpinnings they can contain. There is a sophistication and poise; experience becomes wisdom in the blink of an eye. Thelma Ruby was a scene-stealer this Valentine’s Day, and if she does return then it’ll make for a fantastic occasion.