With a twenty-five year career in films, television and theatre behind him, Leslie Jordan could mine that material for hundreds of bitchy anecdotes, piercing character profiles and hilarious snafus, but he doesn't. Instead, in Fruit Fly (at Leicester Square Theatre until March 16), he tells us about growing up, being gay and, most of all, about his mother. And he does it with such skill, such warmth and such wit that you can't help thinking of your own mother and giving them a call on the way home - because he's right you know.
If that's the somewhat obvious conclusion after 90 minutes of stories piling one on top of the other, so quick do they come from the pint-sized Alan Bennett lookalike on stage, it's reached by a very interesting route indeed. At five foot tall on tip-toes (and he's on tip-toes quite a lot, dashing about the better to point out a relative or school mate in a photograph) Jordan fills the theatre with his charismatic presence. Rooting back through old family snaps, he conjures the Tennessee of the late-50s / early 60s with its Sunday Schools, its hairdressing salons where women would judge other women's morals and its rigid views on masculinity. But he was different - and, fortunately for him, so was his mother.
Between glorious tales of sexual adventure (on tour with a school choir, in drag at a seedy jazz club, in pre-HIV Atlanta where anything goes and Leslie really did go), there's moments of pathos too. The early death of his father and Leslie's nagging sense that he disapproved of him, even if he never said so; periods of estrangement from his mother; his own soaring success taking him away from those that are still in drag, still in the same clubs, still drinking the same peppermint schnapps today.
But through those few moments that prick tears in the eyes and the many that produce laughter that rings round the stalls - and this is as funny a show as one would imagine an out and happy Kenneth Williams to have created - the story keeps veering away from Leslie and back to his mother. She is the real star of this one-man show. And in the last anecdote of all, now approaching 80 years old, she earns her new name (and the title of the show) and a renewed love and respect from her son. And his audience.