White Bear Theatre, London – until 16 December 2017
The backstage comedy has been around for what feels like as long as theatre itself, and it’s difficult to improve upon or innovate it. Simon Bradbury’s attempted dark comedy Curtain Call takes a different direction, instead using the genre to look at ageing, failure and unrequited love. The overwritten script needs significant cutting and dramaturgical streamlining, but it has a dynamic premise that looks at an often-ignored demographic.
Stan’s an actor, relegated to dinner theatre since losing the ability to retain the lines of his Shakespeare roles of yore. His ex Shelley, now a successful director, has hunted him down to make him an offer he tries to refuse – Gloucester in King Lear, starring the wildly successful TV actor that Shelley left Stan for. Of course, he says yes.
Bradbury plays Stan with some lovely moments of genuine vulnerability, but he’s overwhelmed by dialogue laden with sound and fury, signifying nothing. The character hides behind Shakespeare’s exquisite verse in lieu of emotional expression, but this issue is barely addressed. Instead, the focus turns to his undying love for Shelley and eternal loathing of Rod (Aran Bell), his illustrious colleague. Bradbury and Bell’s conflict is often overblown and unconvincing, but as their relationship loses its spiky edge, it becomes more believable.
Individual scenes often stagnate within arguments without progressing the plot, though the overall narrative is sound underneath the baggy dialogue. The male characters are the strongest element, particularly in more exposing, intimate moments, but the dialogue rarely serves them. Thematically, Bradbury’s ideas need more textual support and development – at the moment, they are lost within the writing and the play doesn’t manage to reach comedic potential. Instead, it’s a rather weak tragedy.
Though the story isn’t innovative or focused, the showcasing of older characters and the issues that effect them works within the backstage setting as framing device – or would do if they were brought to the forefront. More stories like this are needed on stage, and more development will make this one a much stronger work.
Curtain Call runs through 16 December.
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