Review: The Dame

4 star rating
Skilful direction from Ian Talbot and an absorbing performance from Peter Duncan provide an unusual antidote at the close of another panto season, even if the ending is a little sugary.
Peter Duncan as Ronald Roy Humphrey in The Dame at the Park Theatre

Peter Duncan as Ronald Roy Humphrey - photo by Robert Workman

Theatre: Park Theatre

Closes here: Saturday 26 January 2019

Katie Duncan

Ian Talbot


Peter Duncan as Ronald Roy Humphrey


A lost world of seaside entertainment, piers and promenades is brought to life when seasoned Pantomime Dame Ronald Roy Humphrey returns to his Northern roots.

As the curtain falls on the last show of the day, Roy is in a wistful, melancholic mood, but as the years fall away, ghosts and memories from the past confront him with what he has spent his whole life trying to forget.

The Dame takes us on a journey inside an entertainer's mind to expose the fragile creature beneath the make-up, bluster and bravado.

However many masks we wear; the truth will always be revealed.


Starring Oliver Award nominated actor and former Blue Peter daredevil Peter Duncan.

Directed by the Award-winning Ian Talbot, Artistic Director of Regent's Park Open Air Theatre for over 20 years.


ActDrop reviews

Peter Brown

Performance date: Friday 4 January 2019
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The appearance of this show at the Park Theatre must be just about perfect timing as this year's panto season fades into its own stage twilight.

Up and down the country, the last handful of pantos are struggling on gamely for their final few days, with many already closed and the rest scheduled to follow suit within the next week or two.

The dames are all about to hang up their flamboyantly huge frocks for another season.

And that's where we (almost) find Peter Duncan's Ronald Roy Humphrey in this monologue about an entertainer, regularly cast as a panto dame.

We meet him as he returns to his dressing room - adorned with lavish frocks and stagey paraphernalia, and the essential bottle of whisky with which to wind down after an exhausting show.

In fact, Ron's performances are not so much shows as "battles" with the audience, and his costumes are his armour.

And the one he wears as he returns to his dressing room has a hat tall enough to scrape the clouds and a frock that is lavish even by the exaggerated standards of pantoland.

But The Dame isn't really an examination of the state of the panto world or the nature of being a dame or even about the difficulties of being an entertainer.

It's actually about the man behind the dame mask or, to use a more appropriate epithet, the real man hiding underneath the frock.

And it's a rather sad story that contrasts effectively with the humorous nature of the panto dame.

Katie Duncan's story takes us on a journey through Ron's life and, in doing so, reveals more about the real man as Ron removes more layers of his panto costume.

Peter Duncan in The Dame at the Park Theatre

Peter Duncan as Ronald Roy Humphrey - photo by Robert Workman

In the end, wearing just his everyday clothes, Ron is described almost as a helpless child and, one suspects, possibly on the verge of a breakdown.

Probably still familiar to millions as a former presenter on BBC's Blue Peter, Peter Duncan should feel considerable connection with his role here given that he has written and directed many pantos, continuing a family tradition in the genre.

Though his knowledge of the panto and entertainment world shows through his performance, his real challenge is to paint a portrait of a tortured human being which he achieves with moving authenticity.

But though the contextual setting is appealing and interesting, The Dame isn't exactly novel in terms of what it reveals about Ron and his upbringing, or the fact that he's a plaintive and vulnerable persona struggling to cope with shadowy demons from his childhood.

And the ending, which offers some redemption and hope for Mr Duncan's character, seems unnecessarily artificial and sugary, overriding what could have been a painfully moving denouement.

For in the end, many people - entertainers included - don't find resolution to their life issues and problems, or even a vague hint of the fantasy happy ending that pantos might offer.

Nevertheless, the play does embody considerable relevance, and in the skilful directorial hands of Ian Talbot The Dame proves wholly watchable with an absorbing performance from Peter Duncan and, overall, provides something of an unusual antidote at the end of another lengthy panto season.

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