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Twinkle, Drayton Arms Theatre review – ‘a surly panto dame gets dressed for revenge’

★★★☆☆ by Ifan Llewelyn
Love them or lump them, pantomime is a sacred British institution. A religion, some
might say – and its deity? The panto dame. As consistent a presence in the festive
calendar as the big JC himself. Philip Meek’s new one-dame show Twinkle takes us
behind the curtain to follow surly panto dame Harold Thropp as he gets dressed for
revenge, revealing a new layer to his story as he slips into each costume piece.

Taking centre stage (or dressing room, rather) for this entertaining hourlong monologue
is Drayton Arms doyen Derec Walker. Slinking on in an austere overcoat, he fills the
space with an undeniable presence – casually carrying on like an Alan Bennett talking
head. It soon becomes evident that Harold hasn’t emerged from decades as the region’s
premier drag dame unscathed. As he undresses and redresses, we’re introduced to a
compelling portrait of a performer who’s reached the end of his tether.

As a series of anecdotes reveal Thropp’s life story, we’re given somewhat of a
whistlestop tour of recent queer history – from pre-legalisation cottaging to the HIV/AIDS
crisis and on to something that looks like acceptance. Each story is more tragic than the
last, leaving an audience sympathetic to the bloodthirsty dame who impulsively decides
to exact her revenge on an unsuspecting soap star.

Walker shows impressive stamina in his performance, delivering his last lines as
impactful as his first. A role this large needs a big actor to rise to the occasion and
Dereck delivers. Under Robbie O’Reilly’s direction, he succeeds to keep pace and give
light and shade throughout.

A few basic facts could’ve been made clearer to the audience, including when and
where we meet Thorpp. They’re only given as sometime before Woolworths closing and
after political correctness reared its head and a panto-inclined town respectively. The
writing could also benefit from a few more callbacks, in the name of keeping things
cohesive. Each chapter in Thropp’s story stands alone and does little to build towards
the crescendo act of retribution. A bit of cheeky innuendo and a few more one-liners
typical of a panto dame also wouldn’t have gone amiss.

That said, this is a darling evening at the theatre – and one you’d only find here in Britain.
There’s potential for something truly impactful here, especially as pantomime comes
closer to being victim to cancel culture with each passing Christmas. Were it to lean fully
into today’s contentious cultural landscape, we could have a one-man Torch Song
Trilogy on our hands.

Twinkle returns to The Drayton Arms Theatre, 153 Old Brompton Rd SW5 0LJ on the
13th-15th July, 2023.

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