On the face of it Suzi Ruffell’s hour might seem simple. The journey of a working class lesbian from Portsmouth moving to London and elevating herself into the middle class liberal elite. Pretty safe material, right? Wrong! The show is delivered with such energy and brutal honesty that one can’t help but be drawn into her anxieties, self-awareness and open demonstration of what makes her ‘her’. There is very little stillness on stage as she continually paces around her space, injecting a sense of slight paranoia to proceedings; and when you combine this with the bucketload of physical comedy with which she creates the characters in her stories, it would be easy to understand Ruffell’s comment of being too unfit for the show, let alone too unfit for a particular bit involving interval training on a treadmill!
One the biggest contrasts in this hour is that of the “mouthy working class” girl with the attractive, elfin looking lady delivering the material. She tells us that her fashion sense is typically her (buttoned up blouse, colourful suit jacket and pipe cleaner skinny jeans), and the women she dates are almost always very girly, however despite the brash characterisation of ‘Bob’ from the pub, Ruffell’s is a graceful presence. The witty elegance with which she delivers social commentary which is often near the mark, attaching the tougher comments to the characters involved in her story; allows her to ‘go further’ in terms of sharing her views. This by no means indicates any fear of speaking her mind, merely that through her craftsmanship, Ruffell has given herself a variety of ways to make her point.
A natural physical comic, (understandable considering her A-level achievement in contemporary dance!), when combined with her expressive facial expressions and fluid use of accent; Ruffell’s family and friends are vivid presences within her narrative, and much more than simple stereotype. In fact the manner in which ‘stereotypes’ are dealt with in the show is fascinating. The dialogue is peppered with instantly relatable mannerisms, however the characterisations avoid being predictable because they are so physically ‘real’ in their execution. The fusion of the verbal and physical allows Ruffell to demonstrate her skill for accessible penmanship whilst delving into her performance in an almost theatrical style.
The icing on the cake of “Keeping It Classy” is that despite the bravado of the cartoon style characters, and the proclamations that beneath her constructed middle class exterior lies ‘mouthy Suze’, what makes this hour so enjoyable is that as it progresses, bit by bit Ruffell reveals herself as a vulnerable young woman searching for the right relationship, and something that will balance her anxieties. ‘Warrior’ may not be the exercise class to suit her, but in the defending of her truth and acknowledgement of where she is and where she came from; Suzi Ruffell’s suits her family label, ‘legend’.