Reviewed – 4th January 2019
“His sense of wonder as he looks out to sea is enchanting and the songs are full of feeling, nostalgia and sadness”
This one man show, performed by Peter Duncan, and written by his daughter Katie, was a big hit at the Edinburgh Fringe last year. And I can really see why. It is an intensely personal piece, based on Duncan’s family history. His parents were music hall performers who ran summer seasons in seaside resorts such as Brighton and Scarborough, and did pantomime in the winters. It was a hard working life, the performers built the sets, made the costumes and often did three shows a day.
Growing up in this world shaped Peter Duncan, the entertainer, and his daughter remembers seeing him in pantomimes and musicals when she was growing up. She wrote this challenging piece for him and they have worked on it together for a couple of years now. The process brought back many memories for them, especially for Peter, and it does the same for many of the audience, to judge from the conversations afterwards and my own experience. The evocation of the British seaside in the summer, of Punch and Judy, sandy sandwiches and the smell of the sea, was beautifully done. I remembered the feel of waves on my feet, the smell of suncream and the delight of watching seaside entertainers in the open air, things I haven’t thought about for a long time.
There is delicious humour and cheekiness in the beginning, when Duncan enters as a Dame in full costume. He has just come off stage into his dressing room, with the sound of applause still buoying him up. His character is called Ronnie, and he lets us into his life and his love for the old traditions and performers such as Dan Leno and Chaplin. He describes the makeup as his war paint, the costumes as his armour, and as he removes them, the layers of his memory peel back. We see him as a young boy, badly treated by his father, longing for his mother, and it’s heartbreaking. His sense of wonder as he looks out to sea is enchanting and the songs are full of feeling, nostalgia and sadness.
This is a show that demands a lot of the performer, journeying from joyful play through loneliness, rage, desperation and acceptance. And Duncan is magnificent. The set (Peter Humphrey), lighting (James Smith), sound (Georgia Duncan) and costumes (Duncan Reeves) work together to build a believable world for Ronnie. The dressing room is the frame on which the memories hang, conjured by lighting changes and sound that support Ronnie’s voyage through his past. It’s all beautifully done, and ably pulled together by director Ian Talbot. An excellent start to the new year.
Reviewed by Katre
Photography by Robert Workman
Park Theatre until 26th January
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: