Pros: Peter Duncan captivates as a Panto Dame sparkling with allure and panache. As the limelight dies down, glad rags are shed and greasepaint is wiped off, vivid memories take centre-stage.
Cons: A performer treads the boards, then succumbs to dressing room blues. It’s a lyrical but familiar story: underneath a wild grin, the tears of a clown.
The Park Theatre, hidden right behind Finsbury Park station in North London, was glittering on a cold January night as cheerful crowds streamed in to enjoy a different kind of post-seasonal bout of panto. The Dame is a story that unfolds after the show is over, once the lights are out and the audience has gone home. Alone in his dressing room, Roy, panto dame extraordinaire and full of bonhomie, starts to reflect on his past. As he divests himself of his glittering, sparkly armour and changes into boyish clothes – a striped T-shirt and cords – he starts to look like an older version of Richard Basehart’s character Il Matto in Fellini’s La Strada.
Introspection is dangerous. Roy’s memories become an incantation, familiar images come to life: seaside scenes, visions of piers, tales of old entertainers, a Punch and Judy show. And this marks a gear shift. Judy asks Punch to watch after their baby when she goes off to run an errand. When she comes back, he tells her that he has thrown the infant out of the window.
There are beautiful, memorable lines that stay in the mind and yet feel completely authentic. Duncan plays a stage role without affectation, untheatrically. The play uses words like ‘iridescent splendour’ and turns of phrase such as ‘how could these happy troupers fade into the mists of time?’ and somehow this works. The spell never breaks. He brings to life quintessentially English images and talks of little England, in a loving way. He creates a small, barely noticeable pause between those words, little and England, and this speaks volumes.
It’s a strong performance, perfectly modulated for a small theatre where the first row is just a step or two away from the performer. There’s a sense of wonder at a performer who creates a deeply absorbing parallel world, while so close to onlookers – especially so since on press night, the first row happened to be occupied by the leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition.
Author: Katie Duncan
Director: Ian Talbot
Producer: Cahoots Theatre Company
Box Office: 020 7870 6876
Booking Link: https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/the-dame
Booking Until: 26th January 2019