REVIEW: CURTAINS (New Wimbledon Theatre) ★★★★★

Who doesn’t love a whodunnit? Whoever says they don’t is clearly lying. Nobody, I repeat, nobody is above a well-written Christie-esque whodunnit. Who doesn’t want to get to know each of the characters and trust absolutely none of them, whilst trying to be a super-sleuth and notice the red herrings and carefully dotted clues? We all love to be delectably deceived and befuddled, eventually getting to the “ohhhh!” Big Reveal. Throw in the fact that ‘Curtains’ is a musical, plus it has the familiar face of Jason Manford heading it up, and the New Wimledon Theatre is promising a blast of a night.

We find ourselves in Boston, USA, looking at a country and western setting, with our performers taking part in a cowboy version of Robin Hood. It isn’t going particularly well, and things turn from bad to nightmarish when a key member of the cast is murdered, prompting the arrival of Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Manford). The Lieutenant stages a lock-in, pointing out that the murderer must be one of the cast members and therefore everyone is being held under suspicion. Secrets start to unravel, motives are unfurling at the seams and danger is waiting at every stage door – but will the Lieutenant figure out whodunnit before the cast is wiped out?

A ‘show within a show’ is always an interesting plotline, as we watch actors play actors, adding an enhanced layer of dramatic persona and creativity to the stage. The characters are well carved out as interesting individuals, and though some are archetypal in nature, they feel far from unoriginal and have a relatability that I found endearing. For example, the tough-nosed businesswoman Carmen Bernstein (Rebecca Lock) who is honest about the financial importance of running the theatre company – she’s hardworking and doesn’t pretend to be in it for the ‘art’, as expressed in the infuriatingly catchy song “It’s a Business” that has been replaying my mind for days.

The script is deliciously witty, packed with sharp one-liners, hand-to-mouth levels of dark humour (one of my favourites being the number called ‘The Woman’s Dead’) and brilliantly timed gags that have the audience rolling their eyes in resentful pleasure. Manford is particularly good at this last one, playing a character who works as a detective but longs to be a performer, so can’t help himself when it comes to giving advice on how the cast could improve the country and western Robin Hood – despite primarily being surrounded by potential murderers. This irony is very bemusing throughout.

Samuel Holmes plays Christopher Belling, the flamboyant director within the play, and really is the zest in the fruit salad when it comes to ‘Curtains’. The product of outstanding casting, his lines are arguably the best in the script, layered with dark British humour that stands out in a US setting, and his perfect timing makes it all the more dry.

Aside from an excellent array of original songs and talented voices, the show was a visual delight. The New Wimbledon Theatre boasts a large stage that allows a lengthy stomping ground for big dance routines involving a large cast, and dance captain Ben Mundy ensured that the routines filled the space effectively. Emma Caffrey (playing Bambi) stood out as a particularly skilful dancer, showing that ballet and the Wild West can be a delightful (if unexpected) combination.

It’s a shame this wasn’t on for a longer run, as this has the music, plotline and cast to please a very varied audience. The mystery kept us guessing right until the end – in fact, I could hear my fellow audience members debating whodunnit throughout, and not one of us suspected correctly. A delight from start to finish.

Reviewed by Laura Evans


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