An emotive production; The Dame is a one-man, one-act play which chronicles the life both on and off the stage of veteran variety performer, Ronald Roy Humphrey (Peter Duncan).
The play begins with Ronald entering his dressing room following a panto performance. He is wearing a colourful gown, a hat which looks like a church steeple and full makeup and is singing “If you were the only girl in the world!” He then sits at his dressing table and starts to remove his makeup. Whilst he is doing this we hear the first tannoy announcement which is counting down the minutes until the theatre closes (these regular announcements annoy him!).
He then puts on a different wig and becomes Dame Trott in Jack & the Beanstalk. Shortly afterward another wig is adorned as he recalls playing Aladdin’s Widow Twankey remembering a scene where she bemoans her sons for bringing out her “laundertourettes!”
Once some of his makeup is removed we are treated to the sight of him stood in the room resplendent in a pink polka dot bra, white frilly bloomers and white tights! He then finds an envelope which has been pushed under his dressing room door; he picks this up and throws it to one side exclaiming that it is probably “someone begging for money which he hasn’t got!”
His next recollection is performing at the seaside and, by using the clothes rail as a puppet theatre; we see a short Punch & Judy show. (It is after this scene we are treated to one of Duncan’s adlibs as he nearly treads on the baby which Punch has discarded!)
In another show of his great versatility, Duncan plays a ukelele whilst singing. This is followed by emotional moments as Ronald begins to remember his overbearing father; who he often performed with despite their difficult relationship. He also recalls the despair he felt as he witnessed his parents’ volatile relationship which ended when his mother suddenly disappeared.
The production gives nods to George Robey, Charlie Chaplin (complete with cane and bowler hat) and, in another lovely little scene, Dan Leno, whose portrait adorns Ronald’s dressing room wall, is remembered.
The story itself is cleverly told and is a rollercoaster of emotion ranging from despair to laughter before its final heart-warming scene and reprise of “if you were the only girl in the world”.
Peter Duncan gives a stunning performance as the complex, Ronald. Throughout the performance, he is fully engaged with the audience. His delivery is excellent showing great comic timing. Duncan’s performance is completed by his excellent singing voice.
Katie Duncan (Peter’s daughter)’s script is eloquent and simply flows throughout the piece. Ian Talbot’s direction is well paced and the production makes full use of the small stage. James Smith’s lighting is clever and the production is enhanced by Georgia Duncan’s sound.
Peter Humphrey’s set is in keeping with the piece. Whilst Duncan Reeves Limited’s costumes are camp and colourful.
The Dame is a clever, well written and brilliantly performed piece.
Review by Karen Pond
A lost world of seaside entertainment, piers and promenades are brought to life when seasoned Pantomime Dame Ronald Roy Humphrey returns to his Northern roots for the Christmas season. As the curtain falls on the last show of the day, Roy is in a wistful, melancholic mood, but as the years fall away, ghosts and memories from the past confront him with what he has spent his whole life trying to forget.
The Dame takes us on a journey inside an entertainer’s mind to expose the fragile creature beneath the make-up, bluster and bravado. However many masks we wear; the truth will always be revealed.
The Dame by Katie Duncan, starring Peter Duncan, directed by Award-winning Ian Talbot, transfers to the Park Theatre, London, from Wednesday 2 January 2019 to Saturday 26 January 2019 after an acclaimed run at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Produced by Cahoots Theatre Company and Gale Productions in association with Park Theatre.
Park Theatre, London
5th January – 26th January 2019