Twinkle by Philip Meeks

Twinkle by Philip Meeks at Drayton Arms Theatre

Of all the different theatrical genres, pantomime is the most traditional. When you go along to a panto, you know what you are going to see. A well-known story, dad jokes, songs, cross-dressing and an over-the-top dame. But it is the changes in panto over the years that are the catalyst for the action in Philip Meeks Twinkle which I caught at the Drayton Arms Theatre.

Twinkle by Philip Meeks
Twinkle by Philip Meeks

Harold Thropp (Dereck Walker) is an experienced panto dame. He’s been treading the boards for a good many years and is now ready to start a new season, in his hometown, after switching on the Christmas lights. Unfortunately, Harold is not considered to be a “star” and, for this year, has been relegated to Dressing Room 5 down in the basement. The best rooms being reserved for a soap star and a contestant from a reality television show who has, with little talent or skill, become a household name, and who Harold worked with rather unsuccessfully the previous year. To say Harold is upset, is an understatement. But, he is a professional and the show must go on. As he gets ready for the lighting ceremony, Harold reminisces on his life and career. He also thinks about the future and his plans to really open this show in style.

It would be quite easy to see Harold Thropp as a bit of a cliche. A faded performer whose star never quite rose to the heights they hoped and is now a bitter old queen bemoaning the instant success of those that, in his mind, have not had to work for it. But, thanks to Meeks’ writing and Walker’s performance, Harold is so much more. He is a performer that is dedicated to his art and faces the frustration of a world where instant fame is but a television programme away. He rants a great deal about things but, like many that go off on one over silly things sometimes, underneath there is a true professional that just wants everything to be right. Walker can really rant and moan and complain and does so frequently, but he can also be tender and vulnerable. Harold has not had an easy life either professionally or personally. A gay man at a time when it was still illegal and the police would set traps to catch the ‘deviants’, and dish out some unofficial punishment. Then, after many happy years with his partner, Eric, he loses everything because society didn’t recognise their relationship. All told, it’s a wonder Harold carries on – I’m not sure I would have the heart or stamina to do so – as the world and show business changes around him. A wonderful performance from Walker who brings every aspect of the character to life beautifully.

Harold walks around his dressing room as he monologues, and David Shields’ design has given us exactly the sort of room we would expect. My only gripe was that the dressing room mirror had no mirror in it. Personally, I would have liked to see one to give the audience the reflection Harold sees as he is applying his make-up – especially as there was a small mirror that was genuine. But I’m nit-picking a bit. Richard Lambert’s lighting is highly effective. At times wide and lighting the whole scene, at others narrowed down to put Harold in the spotlight he so longs for and deserves.

Twinkle is a wonderful tale of a bygone age told by a man that has lived through a revolution both in his profession and in society as a whole. The show is both funny and at times tear-jerking, and no matter what any self-unaware jumped reality TV contestant may say, Dame Harold Thropp is a true star.

4 Stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Arriving at his latest theatre, long-standing pantomime dame Harold Thropp finds that he’s been moved to a dilapidated dressing room. As he paints himself and begins adorning the war paint of a veteran performer, Harold reflects on the changing canvas of his life revealing some traumatic secrets and preparing for an unexpected act of retribution on one of his co-stars.

Drayton Arms Theatre
153 Old Brompton Road
London, SW5 0LJ

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