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Review: CURTAINS, Wyndham's Theatre

Review: CURTAINS, Wyndham's Theatre

Review: CURTAINS, Wyndham's Theatre For those on stage, an opening night can be the stuff of nightmares. In Curtains - the acclaimed duo John Kander and Fred Ebb's 2006 musical - the nightmare turns real when a lead actor gets murdered right after curtain call. So begins a comedic, entertaining whodunit that is chock-full of showbiz intrigue and backstage drama.

Set in 1959, Curtains centres on a company of theatre-makers in Boston who have just opened a Western-style musical called Robin Hood. All they want is to move the show to Broadway, but when scathing reviews get compounded by the death of their talentless, unpopular lead, the cast and crew are thrown into mayhem. Enter Lieutenant Frank Cioffi, a wannabe actor who sets out to solve the crime by quarantining everyone in the theatre. As the body count increases, and Robin Hood gets revised with Frank's feedback, members of the company start to reveal their true colours in all their vivacity.

Based on Peter Stone's original book and concept, Rupert Holmes' book makes its way through this satisfying murder mystery primarily through engaging characterisations. Curtains does not shy away from trafficking in familiar stereotypes about theatre people - the profit-driven producer, the high-maintenance director, the aspiring understudy, and so on. But these seemingly simple renderings end up adding much-needed thrust to a show that is relatively thin in its plot.

Paul Foster directs a strong cast with a fine sense of balanced exaggeration. Jason Manford modulates his unfazed Lieutenant Frank with brilliant asides that betray his passion for the stage. Rebecca Lock's Carmen is an elusively fiery, pun-loving producer, whose brazen confessions about her job in the second act's "It's a Business" are among the highlights of the evening.

Samuel Holmes is pitch-perfect as the histrionic director Christopher: his condescending one-liners about the whole debacle - both criminal and theatrical - elicit the loudest laughter from the audience. There are equally impressive performances from other members of the cast, including Carley Stenson, Emma Caffrey and Alan Burkitt - the latter responsible for some of the best dancing in the production.

David Woodhead's bare and flexible set design alternately evokes a stage and backstage, complete with iconic brick walls and rigging equipment. Tim Mitchell's intermittently flashy lighting and Gabriella Slade's eclectic costumes help accentuate the many scenes from Robin Hood that are interspersed in the musical proper. Though these nested scenes allow Alistair David's nifty choreography to shine, they do little to propel the main story.

So, while Curtains boasts a fair share of puckish, amusing musical numbers, it suffers from a few extended episodes where things get meandering and monotonous. Its three-hour runtime, in other words, is a bit bloated. All the same, this is a mirthful production whose sardonic, exposing gaze upon the theatre reminds one of such beloved works as Noises Off and The Play That Goes Wrong. I must admit that I enjoyed it the most whenever it threw shade on critics, who - as it turns out - "make a living by killing other people's dreams"!

Curtains at Wyndham's Theatre until 11 January, 2020

Photo credit: Richard Davenport



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From This Author - Mert Dilek

Mert Dilek is a critic and dramaturg based in London and Cambridge. He is a Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Cambridge, where he holds the Camilla Mash Studentship at Trinity Co... (read more about this author)


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