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The Dame review at Park Theatre, London – ‘evocative tale of backstage life’

Peter Duncan in The Dame at Park Theatre, London. Photo: Robert Workman
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Katie Duncan’s play The Dame first saw the light of day at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, but this current run at the Park provides a melancholy postscript to the pantomime season.

Ronald Roy Humphrey is a seasoned panto dame returning to his hometown for a run of Jack and the Beanstalk. The venue may be a shadow of its former self but then again so is Ron, who is haunted by the ghost of an abusive father.

Duncan’s play may be slight, and the image of the sad clown a tad clichéd but it has integrity and there’s poetry in the writing. While there’s a smattering of old-school panto patter, the story Ron tells is about a lifetime of hard graft and relentless three-show days at all the major seaside towns in an era where a good run meant food on the table and a roof over your head.

Inspired partly by memories of her grandparents’ time as music hall entertainers, the production is enhanced by the presence of her own father Peter Duncan, in the role of Roy.

A familiar face to many from his Blue Peter years, Duncan is also a confident stage actor; he brings not just strength and authenticity to the role, but also fragility and pathos.

Ian Talbot’s assertive direction makes sense of the shifting time scale and there’s even a bit of audience participation. The Dame may not break new ground, but it’s an evocative exploration of the history of pantomime and its place in British society.

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Peter Duncan stars in an evocative, if a little predictable, backstage tale told with passion