The world of the pantomime becomes the canvas for Twinkle by Phillip Meeks and Finn McGee. Robert Walsh takes centre stage in this examination into a dying art form and the memories of one man who devoted his life to it.
Arriving at his latest theatre, long-standing pantomime dame Harold Thropp (Walsh) 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.
If I Was Not in Pantomime plays through the speakers in theSpaceUK’s Surgeon’s Hall venue before Walsh takes the stage. Set up with a small dressing table, litter strewn on the floor, and two chairs, Walsh enters carrying a case containing his Widow Twankie wig and a larger suitcase with the centre piece – his patchwork pantomime dame dress. Whilst initially Harold’s musings seem that of a disgruntled older gentlemen – complaints about his reality TV celebrity co-stars, the gradual demotion of his dressing room, and the rudeness of theatre management and producers – Twinkle finds its stride as delves into Harold’s past.
Gradually peeling back Harold’s backstory, Twinkle becomes a heartfelt reflection of the challenges experienced by gay men in sixties and seventies Britain. The performer describes the bustle of the cruising scene – sharing the special names utilised for different toilets and the various men who would frequent them (Harold, nicknamed Twinkle), the one man show soon delves into the dehumanising brutality faced by these men. Cornered and humiliated in police sting operations, subject to ridicule, humiliation and violence from the police force, and faced with rejection and abandonment by their families, Harold stoically reflects.
Building the emotional backbone of Harold further, we get an insight into the performer’s devastating personal backstory. Sharing an insight into his family life – Harold notes that he and his partner never experienced the freedom and joy experienced by young gay couples in the 21st Century. In a stark observation, sharing when he caught the eye of a gay couple shopping together and smiled, he was called a pervert. Soon delving into the loss of his partner, we further warm to Harold. He’s a character with something of a melancholic past yet approaches his work with a steady, solid conviction. It keeps him going.
The changing nature of Twinkle’s narrative sees a small yet sinister twist employed in the final moments, taking the production in a slightly unexpected direction and ending on quite a sinister albeit triumphant note.
The production is somewhat shaky with Walsh sometimes affected by nerves, but the actor conveys Harold’s story in a grounded yet quietly emotional manner. Delivering fifty-five minutes of dialogue as the only performer on stage is no easy feat and Walsh is able to hold our attention for the full run time.
Packing a surprising poignancy, Twinkle‘s reflective tone results in a quietly emotional glimpse into the changing nature of queer life in the UK.