Park Theatre, London – until 26 January 2019
In an impressive Duncan double-act, The Dame transfers from the Edinburgh Fringe to London’s Park Theatre and makes for compelling theatre. In her first play, Katie Duncan writes, for father Peter to enact, the fictional story of Ronald Roy Humphrey a decaying dame in the twilight of his career, whose working life has revolved around winter pantomimes and summer seasons in end of the pier music hall.
Well researched, Duncan (junior) has delivered a text that captures Humphrey’s melancholy, contrasting it with a beautifully composed paean to Britain’s crumbling Victorian seaside towns. Places that were once home to frolicking fun palaces, now reduced to rusting and often burnt-out relics.
The writing is perceptive but in a 70-minute solo performance, Peter Duncan’s acting is masterful. Opening with a whirl of corny-gags and panto numbers, he takes us through Jack’s (from the Beanstalk) Mother, Widow Twankey and Pierrot, even throwing in a Punch and Judy routine too.
But it is as he slowly strips off the gowns and make-up, revealing the tortured soul that lies beneath the greasepaint carapace, that Duncan-pere excels. Through snatches of old music hall numbers, we catch glimpses of his fractured mind and in a masterstroke of both writing and performance, the Duncans deploy ‘There’s A Hole In My Bucket’ as a discordant backdrop to the horrific physical abuse the young Humphrey suffered at the hands of his father.
The Dame is uncomfortable theatre, movingly performed. Under Ian Talbot’s assured direction, the Park Theatre have unearthed another gem.