Harry (Dereck Walker) is just the kind of ageing Dame to hold a grudge in this interesting, blackly comic, monologue, set in the worst dressing room at a provincial theatre in the run up to Christmas.
Something of a gossip, and a bitchy one at that, our middle-aged Twanky takes aims at the reality TV and soap stars who get the top billing in Aladdin, as well as recounting stories of his life growing up gay when it was illegal.
With an old-fashioned tinge – Twinkle takes place after decriminalisation but before civil partnerships -Harry’s tale covers both the surrealism of potentially suicidal performing aninals and the heartbreak of a partnership built on a falsehood.
It’s a chatty show, as Harry changes his clothes and puts on his make-up to transform into the washy Widow. He has a photo of Joan Crawford pinned up (the name he also gives the Dame’s most basic of wigs) and has her poise and poison.
Names of the past are bandied about – the great Dame Douglas Byng and the geriatric principal boy Dorothy Ward. These are much more revered by Harry as stars and professionals than the young blood who now call the shots.
When he shares his memories of life partner, Eric, from a rich family with a “name” to protect, the tone turns into pathos, but rightly so. It contrasts with an earlier snarky moment against two out lesbians able to share their affection openly.
Gifted writing by Philip Meek means the argumentative stage door keeper, the “blonde bint” wearing Arab make-up “one shade from Show Boat” and Eric’s bigoted brother all come to life within the piece.
Can we cheer on this embittered actor in the twilight of his career? By the end I think we can, as the dots we had only lazily connected early on join up to create a savage conclusion.
The design (David Shields) of a decayed backstage is spot on – you know there is mould in the corner and a miserable walk to the loo – and the sound (Julian Starr) and lighting (Richard Lambert) are ably grim.
Twinkle (Harry’s scene name when caution was advised) is lively, playful, and deliciously cruel.
Catch Twinkle (directed by Robbie O’Reilly) at the Drayton Arms until tomorrow, 21 Jan. Tickets here.
Image credit: Nick Brittain