The idea behind Linda Wilkinson’s play with music, Diamond, is an interesting one – it explores the true story of homosexual male entertainers, Diamond Lil (who always dressed as a woman, and is played here by acclaimed drag artist Dave Lynn) and Maisie (who only put on the glitz on stage, played by John Barr), who performed their act at the Royal Oak pub which still stands in East London (it’s now a gastropub). The play is set during World War II, and centres on the prejudices and dangers the couple, who call themselves ‘she’, encounter.

Theirs is a story of love against the odds, and it is told in flashback as a modern day young American photographer (William de Coverly) talks to some of the local characters (Eileen Page and Avril Elgar) who were around during the war.

Wilkinson’s script is witty, and there is scope for a great play with some amusing scenes, including one in which Lil tells of how she tried to enlist in the army - in full drag. There are also plenty of sorrowful tales, about Maisie’s promiscuity and frequent arrests, and a 19 year old prostitute, Lena, (X Factor runner-up Cassandra Compton, who has a beautiful voice but spends the entire play looking frail and confused) who falls for an American soldier (a cringe-worthily earnest Sam Bloom) and has a child by him, but is sent back to the gutter in disgrace when his family learn of her “profession”.

The music, though, while occasionally beautiful (courtesy of Steven Hill with some other tunes thrown in from the period), jars amid some of the more serious moments. All the songs are sweet and hopeful, which doesn’t fit with a gritty tale of downtrodden pub owners, petty crooks, homosexuality, prostitution and bombings. There is an effective backdrop of newsreel from the war and David Shields’s set uses the space well.

Despite the fact their stories are based on people who really existed (and, according to the programme, some are still alive today), it just doesn’t quite ring true. There are some genuinely touching moments; when Lil mourns Maisie’s death, Lynn speaks his monologue with a heartfelt sadness. This is somewhat shattered, however, in a scene in which s/he sings about wanting to be a movie star when Lena asks earnestly “didn’t you ever want to be anything else?”

- Caroline Ansdell