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Twinkle by Philip Meeks at Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Listening to Harold Thropp (Dereck Walker) wax lyrical about how things in the live entertainment business aren’t how they used to be is quite a cathartic experience. This isn’t just another older fastidious thespian unwilling to accept change – there’s acknowledgement of the digital era, even if Thropp doesn’t exactly run an Instagram account. His frustration goes further than being allocated ‘Dressing Room 5’ (that is, there are four other more prestigious dressing rooms, and having been in showbusiness for decades, he knows exactly how prestigious each of them are).

Harold Thropp (Dereck Walker).
Harold Thropp (Dereck Walker).

As far as he’s concerned, the audience for this season’s pantomime at an unspecified theatre deserves better than top billing going to a reality television star, Jez Bookham. He doesn’t quite call for Equity to return to a closed shop policy, not that it would be legally possible anyway, but there’s a palpable exasperation as he finds himself sharing a stage with someone who ‘leads’ a pantomime cast – inverted commas mine but might as well be Thropp’s – seemingly because of name recognition rather than being the best actor to have made it through several rounds of auditions.

For Thropp, the blame lies solely with the show’s production team, rather than the audience: the latter camp may or may not have purchased tickets on the back of Bookham’s apparent popularity but he (Bookham) is about to get his comeuppance. It would, alas, be giving too much away to say quite how this would happen, but suffice to say I found the end result of Thropp’s vengeance utterly hilarious, and far more imaginative than the usual method of taking a miscast performer down – that is, by doing such a brilliant job on stage in a supporting role that the audience comes away relatively unimpressed by the lead.

With decades of theatrical experience, Thropp has some amusing anecdotes of both on and off-stage incidents, though I suppose it naturally follows that the most memorable stories are very serious, serving as a reminder that while Pride events are more open and celebratory than they once were (whilst retaining an element of protest), homosexual activity between men was once illegal in Britain well within living memory. Even after the Sexual Offences Act 1967 was passed, Thropp recalls still having to exercise more or less the same degree of care and discretion, with a shocking and harrowing account of what happened to someone who wasn’t quite as cautious.

The stories keep coming in a packed narrative, which comes across as a stream of consciousness at face value – perhaps only the oh-so-perfectly timed sound and lighting effects give away the fact it is all scripted after all. After Thropp’s partner Eric dies, he is left with nothing – not even an invitation to the funeral. But are things looking up for the Harold Thropps of this world? Sir Ian McKellen was recently on tour with a pantomime – outside the festive season, mind you – and for all his Thropp’s gripes and vexations, he’s still going. As amusing as much as it is reflective, this story is as beautiful as it is bittersweet.

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.

Listings info
Dereck Walker as Harold Thropp
Written by Philip Meeks
Directed by Robbie O’Reilly
Designed by David Shields
Lighting Richard Lambert
Sound Julian Starr
Production Photography Nick Brittain Photography
Produced by LAMBCO Productions

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