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Edinburgh Fringe 2010

Frances Ruffelle: Beneath the Dress

Frances Ruffelle

Genre: Musical Theatre

Venue: Ghillie Dhu


Low Down

Frances Ruffelle takes over the Ghillie Dhu with her band, belting out a mix of classic standards and reworked rock songs. Provocative and flirtatious, Ruffelle makes the entire room her stage for an hour of mercurial musical theatre.


Frances Ruffelle takes over the Ghillie Dhu with her band, belting out a mix of classic standards and reworked rock songs. Showcasing the voice that made her a Tony award winner, Ruffelle flings herself around the venue, flirting with her band and audience alike.  As the show’s title, ‘Beneath the Dress’ suggests, she is in provocative mode, stripping away layers of clothing as she adopts different personas and musical styles.

It looks as though Ruffelle has spent a small fortune on her stage outfits, which invariably scream luxury.  The silky, satiny boudoir feel is continued to her band, who are amusingly and effectively kitted out in black nightshirts, pyjamas and suspenders.  Lifting the lid of a very large dressing up box to reveal a mirror surrounded with Broadway-style lights, Ruffelle comes across as a cross between a sophisticated femme fatale and over-excited child playing dress-up.  Using the entire venue as her stage, she throws herself from one end of the room to the other, stopping occasionally to flirt and sit on laps.  As techniques for holding an audience’s attention go it’s effective – all eyes remain on Ruffelle as the audience follows her spotlight around and hope it won’t – or wish it will – stop on them, too.
It’s a slickly produced show, and Frances certainly has a hell of a voice.  Still, there’s nothing fresh or new about anything she does, and the experienced Fringe-goer won’t fail to be reminded of Camille O’ Sullivan, late-night chanteuse and Edinburgh Fringe institution.  Indeed, Ruffelle is almost like Camille’s smaller, slightly WAGgier little sister, racing around on a massive sugar rush.  The dressing up box, multiple costume changes and even the Bowie cover seem to come straight from last year’s Dark Angel tour.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as there are certainly worse shows upon which to model oneself, but it does invite unfortunate comparisons instead of shining a light on Ruffelle’s own individual talents and charms.  Ruffelle is at her best when showcasing her cheekily mercurial personality, and the sunniness of her Broadway musical style will no doubt appeal to those who find Camille’s smoky intensity too angst-ridden.  For myself, I was distracted from Ruffelle’s undeniable talent from the feeling that I’d seen it all before – and seen it done better.
It might not be original, but ‘Beneath the Dress’ is a slickly produced visual feast, with enough theatrical flourishes to make up for the slightly uneven choice of songs.  Ruffelle has a strong voice and a huge personality, all encased in a tiny, undeniably aesthetically pleasing frame.  This is a solid four star show, well performed and well produced, but Ruffelle will need to find a style of her own before commanding five star applause.