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Twinkle by Philip Meeks at Drayton Arms Theatre

Harold Thropp (Dereck Walker) is not a happy man. Railing against practically everybody else involved in the panto production he is in, including the stage doorkeeper, company manager and fellow performers, one wonders why he hasn’t just flounced off and told the producers they can find someone else to do ten shows a week (or however many shows a week it is in panto) with – if I may paraphrase Thropp’s thoughts, some of the actual ones being a little too impertinent to regurgitate here – a bunch of apparently incompetent reprobates who are legends only in their own minds.

Twinkle by Philip Meeks
Twinkle by Philip Meeks

The acid-tongued nature of his verbal venom made me wonder if I should settle in for a Very Long Rant. He’d prefer it, although he doesn’t say so in so many words, if the acting trade had remained a closed shop, reserving his fiercest anger for a Jez Bookham, a (fictional) reality television star who may or may not be any good at pantomime but is in the line-up as someone who will fill seats. Real people are name-checked with affection, all of whom are from a previous generation. There are some insights into how badly (some) people speak to one another in the theatre world – quite sufficient, I would have thought, to put aspiring thespians off.

But they’d only be put off momentarily, as the Very Long Rant – spoiler alert – doesn’t materialise, and the end result is a rather personal set of reflections on how things used to be. The good old days weren’t so good after all – there’s a harrowing account, for instance, about a violent attack on a friend of his: the physical scars may have healed eventually but the psychological ones did not. His own off-stage past feels familiar, and not in a positive way: when his partner and soulmate Eric died, such was the stigma against their same-sex relationship by Eric’s family that the executors of the estate left Thropp nothing, and he deliberately wasn’t invited to the funeral.

But Thropp carries on, getting back up again whenever knocked down, and to answer my earlier question – why doesn’t he just walk away? – it simply isn’t in his nature. He fights on, perhaps seeing unpleasant staff and producers as the continuation of a long line of figures in authority over the decades who don’t like him and the sort of person he is. The resolve to retaliate being undimmed – there are some amusing stories about how Thropp got his own back previously – the show ends with a plan to do just that once again. Let’s just say not all baddies in a panto necessarily get booed.

The dilapidated conditions of ‘dressing room five’ are realised well in David Shields’ design, and Dereck Walker’s rapport with the audience, quickly established, remained strong to the end. The play itself seems to have been around for some time, going by the references to retail firms no longer in operation, but didn’t feel outdated. This brief but nonetheless nuanced performance was over all too quickly.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

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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