Ruby Turner began previews at the Donmar on Aug. 12, prior to her Aug. 13 opening. The singer was uncharacteristically nervous, saying that she was somewhat in awe of the place and its reputation for serious theatre — she had seen Proof there some weeks earlier. She was, however, delighted to be a Diva for the week.
Her performance proved the theatre's programming skill, in that her show could not have been more different from that of last week's opening performer, Janie Dee, whose versatility and rapport with the audience led a number of critics to suggest that her show be given a life of its own via a transfer to another theatre.
Ruby Turner has plenty of theatre experience herself — in Carmen Jones, Fame, Blues Brothers, Soul Sisters, A Streetcar Named Desire and One Love among others — but is best known as a singer, with groups like Culture Club and for her own albums, often recording songs she has written herself.
Her performance, before an audience that was decent-sized but noticeably less than a full house, was so powerful (she claimed, during it, that she and her band had "quieted down" their show to fit the Donmar's intimate space, but they still almost literally raised the roof) that at the end of the show she received not just a standing ovation but a record-breaking one, with cheers and applause that went on and on and almost matched the volume that had been generated onstage. The result was Ruby Turner in tears, a member of the band rushing off to get her a handkerchief, and then not one but two encores before the exhausted performers were finally allowed to leave. This extraordinary success — of which the best songs were probably "Nobody But You" and "Stay With Me" — demonstrates not only Sam Mendes' skillfull choice of guest stars for the Divas series, but the variety of music/theatre that does well at the Donmar and in the West End in general.
As an art form cabaret is something more closely associated with New York than with London, although Pizza on the Park in Knightsbridge provides a regular forum, and the late great Marion Montgomery was performing there a couple of months before her recent, untimely death from cancer.
Dinner-table cabaret has the drawback, however, that although the chatting and eating stops for the 40 minutes or so of performing, there's always a sense of waiters hovering, people trying to order more drinks and a general sense of the show somehow impinging on the real raison d'être of the place — having a good meal.
The great advantage of the Donmar is that the focus is entirely on the performance, and the place has all the advantages of a theatre (especially regarding lighting effects that add greatly to the atmosphere) with the intimacy of scale of a cabaret venue.
—By Paul Webb Theatrenow