dfp_header_hidden_string

Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Curtains review at Rose Theatre, London – ‘sharply observed dark comedy’

The cast of Curtains at Rose Theatre, London. Photo: Manuel Harlan The cast of Curtains at Rose Theatre, London. Photo: Manuel Harlan
by -

Stephen Bill’s dark comedy about how a family copes with reality of assisted suicide premiered in 1987 in Hampstead. Since then, the subjects of ageing, dementia and end-of-life care have been explored on stage frequently, as more people are forced to address these issues in their own lives.

In Curtains, the celebration of Ida’s 84th birthday is etched with awkwardness, uncertainty and pain. Her family gather to jolly things up with a party, but events turn sour when Ida’s estranged youngest daughter turns up after a 25 year absence.

The comedy often borders on the cruel. Written in an age before disability activism had raised people’s awareness, Ida and her well-meaning family make easy targets and director Lindsay Posner’s astute production is well aware of this. The easy laughs in the first scene are used as a counterpoint to the harrowing reality of the second, where Katherine finally helps her mother’s pain stop for good.

An accomplished cast negotiate the emotional shorthand that underscores Bill’s writing. They capably convey the odd mix of affection and passive aggression that underpins the family’s interactions. Wendy Nottingham, as daughter Margaret, and Caroline Catz, as the prodigal Susan, bicker and accuse but, beneath this, there is a barely suppressed jealousy of what the other one has achieved. Saskia Reeves as Katherine is quiet and painstakingly understated, shading the role with different levels of fear and desperation.

There are laughs in the aftermath too, notably supplied by Leo Bill (Stephen’s son) as the incredulous Michael, who tries to piece together events long after everybody else has twigged. But Posner also keeps a tight rein on the reality of the situation as the family come to terms with their guilt and loss.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
Verdict
Sharply observed revival of Stephen Bill’s dark mix of comedy and drama
^