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Review of Curtains at the Rose Theatre Kingston

Curtains. Tim Dutton (Douglas), Leo Bill (Michael), Jonathan Coy (Geoffrey), Sandra Voe (Ida), Saskia Reeves (Katherine) & Wendy Nottingham (Margaret)
Curtains. Tim Dutton (Douglas), Leo Bill (Michael), Jonathan Coy (Geoffrey), Sandra Voe (Ida), Saskia Reeves (Katherine) & Wendy Nottingham (Margaret) – Credit – Manuel Harlan

Ayckbournesque comedy that speaks to its audience loud and clear.
Opening on 22nd February, Stephen Bill’s Curtains, is playing at Kingston’s Rose Theatre until 17th March. A black comedy, Curtains is funny and poignant in equal measure and, with a strong cast who fit their roles like a glove, the laughter provides a good way to keep warm on a freezing evening while the issues raised by the play provide plenty to talk about on the journey home.

It is the birthday of Ida, a disabled octogenarian, and all of her family have gathered at her dilapidated home. Few, if any, really want to be there and it is clear to all – even her – that Ida has lived too long. So far so Agatha Christie but Stephen Bill takes his story to a darker place than Christie ever did and, by balancing shock with some side-splitting lines, pulls his audience into the family’s dilemma. Sandra Voe plays Ida, weak of sight and poor of hearing, conveying strength and ultimately vulnerability in a very well judged performance. As her selfish, self-pitying daughter Margaret, Wendy Nottingham is extremely funny but the show belongs to Saskia Reeves, as Katherine, who genuinely loves her mother and gives a consistently excellent performance, provoking roars of laughter at one point simply by her inability to decide which direction she is walking in. Jonathan Coy plays Katherine’s husband Geoffrey who also has difficulty with decisions and flounders hilariously as he tries to keep everything under control. By contrast, Tim Dutton, as Margaret’s husband, is wasted in a role where his only speeches of any length feel crowbarred in to justify his character’s presence in the play, rather like the way Dutton’s six foot two frame is crowbarred into one of Ida’s aged chairs. Others in the cast include Leo Bill as Katherine’s son, and Caroline Catz, whose inconsistent accent undermines her performance as Ida’s wayward third daughter, Susan, as self-centred and vain as wayward daughters usually are in this kind of play. Marjorie Yates, as Ida’s friend and neighbour, does very little but does it very well, winning one of the biggest laughs of the evening simply by opening a door.

While the set is a little lost in the cavernous space of the Rose – and far, far away from the audience – director Lindsay Posner and the lively cast of eight work hard to give Curtains the intimacy it needs. They largely succeed although there are a few sightline problems that should be addressed. None of the characters are particularly likeable but they are all real, as are the challenges they face – along with, one suspects, many in the audience. There are times when the play slows a little, in one scene in particular in the second act, but this Ayckbournesque comedy speaks to its audience loud and clear and, when the laughter subsides, we realise that Stephen Bill is posing a profound question that now, even more than when his thought-provoking play debuted in 1987, is being asked more generally, and not just in the theatre.

4 stars

Review by Louis Mazzini

Ida’s family is throwing her a birthday tea for her eighty-sixth birthday. As the painfully laboured celebrations go on, her third daughter Susan returns unexpectedly after an absence of 25 years. Tensions immediately flare between the sisters, whilst Ida struggles to recognise her. As the party comes to an end, the family disperse leaving Katherine remembering the pact she made with Ida not to let her suffer into old age… When the family returns, old prejudices and rivalries are forced into the open in this at times hilarious, painful and moving picture of a family in turmoil.

Cast includes Leo Bill (Michael), Caroline Catz (Susan), Jonathan Coy (Geoffrey), Tim Dutton (Douglas), Wendy Nottingham (Margaret), Saskia Reeves (Katherine), Sandra Voe (Ida) and Marjorie Yates (Mrs Jackson).

Rose Theatre Kingston present
Written by Stephen Bill
Directed by Lindsay Posner
Set & Costume Designer: Peter McKintosh; LX Designer: Paul Pyant
Composer & Sound Designer: Isobel Waller-Bridge; Casting Director: Ginny Schiller
22 February – 17 March 2018
Press night: Wednesday 28 February at 7pm


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