Review: Ruby, Lyric Theatre

Libby Smyth as Ruby Murray in her one-woman show at the Lyric Theatre
Libby Smyth as Ruby Murray in her one-woman show at the Lyric Theatre Libby Smyth as Ruby Murray in her one-woman show at the Lyric Theatre

Ruby at the Naughton Studio, Lyric Theatre until Sunday February 17

Ruby Murray takes the stage in the Naughton Studio at the Lyric Theatre for the rest of this week.

Most people know she was a phenomenon in the 1950s, a little girl from Belfast's Donegall Road who took the UK charts by storm.

She had at least one single in the charts for 52 weeks without a break and five in the Top 20 during the same week, with Softly Softly at number one - an extraordinary record that apparently has never been beaten.

When she was little her dad took her along to the pub where a table would be cleared and she’d stand there and sing and her father would pocket the pennies that were collected for the entertainment, much the same for the rest of her working life.

It was the beginning of an extraordinary career. She climbed the ladder of success, topped the bill at the London Palladium, performed for the Queen in the Royal Command performance, travelled the world.

But as she tells us, those who booked her didn’t give a damn about the vulnerable girl from Belfast, they just wanted their pay day. She married twice, had two children but didn’t find happiness.

A lot of research has gone into this one-woman show. The writer Michael Cameron spent years perfecting the script, director Richard Orr was intrigued to discover more about her life especially when the dark days came, and then the girl herself, Libby Smyth, who sits in a winged chair complete with antimacassar, a table by her side with a phone, a bottle of Bushmills and a glass which is never empty.

She wears slippers - she’s in a nursing home in Torquay where she eventually dies of chronic alcoholism.

For an hour and 20 minutes Libby holds us spellbound as she becomes Ruby, talks of being evacuated during the war, of being locked in a barn with dead pigs and rats, something that affected her all her life. “If you want to know what’s wrong with my life look no further than the rats.”

We hear recordings of her songs, dovetailing beautifully into the script. Her unique voice, she says, was the result of a throat operation when she was very young.

Libby Smyth brings such light and shade into the performance - sad, thoughtful, sometimes frightening, screaming her despair, sometimes very funny.

Always that wistfulness of a little girl lost, always wanting to be back home.

Ruby’s first husband Bernie Burgess and children Julie and Tim were in the packed audience to join in the standing ovation.

A tragic life but an excellent evening's theatre.

Anne Hailes