Thursday, 1 March 2018

REVIEW: Curtains at the Rose Theatre in Kingston

Sometimes drama is so uncomfortable to watch that the audience laughs out loud from embarrassment or out of discomfort at the recognition of the scene in front of them and this revival of Stephen Bill's award winning play certainly touches raw nerves. As our life expectancies increase bringing physical infirmities and the risk of dementia , many families are faced with the challenge of how to care for their elderly parents and this play explores the tensions and divisions that this situation brings. Though set in the late eighties in the days before mobile phones, the situation is even more topical and relevant today although some of the language is dated. 

Ida, or Mum as she is called by most of the characters, is wheelchair bound, in pain, partially blind and barely able to recognise her own family and is played with a touching realism by the excellent Sandra Voe. It is her 86th birthday and her family have gathered to celebrate the day in her dated dilapidated sitting room. The set design by Peter McKintosh is full of detailed period furnishings and clutter, including a glimpse of the offstage kitchen and reflects the family neglect as a result of uncertainties of what to do with their mother.

Margaret played by Wendy Nottingham, fusses around her mother on the day although we learn that she lives a distance away on a farm with her retired pilot husband, Douglas (Tim Dutton) and while concerned about her mother, lives her own life at arms length from her mother.Ida's daughter Katherine, played with intense uptight concern by Saskia Reeves and described by her mother as a "cruel woman" is married to Geoffrey, an over wrought but caring man played by Jonathan Coy. They really take centre stage in the second act as Katherine fulfils her promise to her mother. Their son Michael (Leo Bill) is the only family member to live with Ida and care for her on a day to day basis and breaks the family tensions with misplaced attempts at humour.

The caring and supportive neighbour, Mrs Jackman played with a devoted passiveness by Marjorie Yates, appears to be the only person that Ida fully trusts and relies on a daily basis. 

Into this family party arrives Susan (Caroline Catz), a third daughter, who was
thrown out of her home when she became pregnant twenty five years earlier and has been estranged from the family since. Why she has chosen to return on this day is unclear but she adds to the family tensions. Only Douglas can dispassionately analyse the situation the family are in.

This is a black comedy with the emphasis on black and under Lindsay Posner's direction the comedy is overwhelmed by the dark theme and strained relationships. The Rose Theatre's unusual design with the stage angled into the pit also leads to some odd blocking as the full family arrive on stage. However the ensemble acting is excellent throughout and our uncomfortable feeling of recognition from the first act is replaced by our understanding of the family's dilemma which is debated in the second. The play has an important discussion within it but the writing and pace leaves an unsatisfactory overall feel to the production.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★
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