Five Have Fun at the Garrick!
Curtain Up! At the Lichfield Studio Theatre – Review
Thursday 19 July 2018
The Lichfield Players latest performance in the Studio Theatre at the Garrick was ‘Curtain Up!’ a comedy by the writer Peter Quilter. The Players last performance was ‘Blood Money’, a spooky and disturbing dark thriller but they are back here with a charming, funny and knockabout comedy but which has a strong positive message behind it.
2018 is the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People’s Act, which gave women the vote for the first time, albeit with restrictions. So it’s fitting that this play has a five strong female company, the only time we see any male presence is at the scene changes when a man holds up a board updating us on the progress of the play and a ‘silent’ male character in a bear suit!
Curtain Up! is about five women who inherit a dilapidated, dirty and disgusting theatre from the recently deceased owner Michael. The women are his daughter Theresa, his ex-wife Pam, his mother-in-law Betty, his former PA Sharon and, finally, Jackie his lover and the woman he left his wife for.
The five women are divided, in a number of ways, about what they should do with the theatre and disagree about whether to sell it or, as five theatre owners with no knowledge of running a theatre, to restore it to its former glories and make a going concern of it.They hit upon the idea of inviting one of the most famous singers in the world, Shirley Bassey, to the theatre where she had had appeared previously in its heyday, which they hope will raise much needed funds and save the theatre. They are stunned when Dame Shirley agrees to perform and not charge for her appearance. It looks like the theatre will be saved after all but as preparations are well under way they are struck with a hammer blow as the Dame falls ill and cannot appear. When the performance appears to be doomed they decide that Pam, an amateur singer, can dress up as a looky-likey Dame Shirley, hoping that the audience who have paid to see the real thing will be hoodwinked into believing that Pam is Shirley and all will not be lost. Pam not only loses her voice, but loses the plot, fainting on stage amid catcalls and demands for their money back from the audience, which will potentially ruin the theatre and the famous five’s dreams. Luckily they scrape by and decide to carry on with their plans to make the theatre great again.
The play is written by Peter Quilter, responsible for several similar comedies, and was based on the original title, Respecting Your Piers, about five people who inherit an old pier, but here reworked to be about a theatre.
The main comedy is about the interaction between the five leading ladies, and their friendly, and sometimes volatile, relationships. Not surprisingly the main fireworks are between Pam, the ex-wife, and Jackie, the woman that Mike left Pam for. Pam, played by Julie Lomas, is very embittered and takes out her frustrations and barely concealed anger on Jackie, played by Carol Talbot, which results in some very funny, direct and acid-like barbed remarks, insults and retorts. Betty, played for major laughs by the excellent Maureen George, is the batty mother-in-law who is very well meaning but more of a hindrance to their theatre plans than a help. The equally batty Sharon, played by Christine McDermott, is all leather skirts and punk rock spiked hair, trying to keep the group amused with her knockabout style and also forming a comedy double act with Nanny Betty. Finally there is Michael and Pam’s daughter, Theresa (played with perky enthusiasm and humour by Rachel Slade) who, despite being the youngest of the five ladies is clearly the most sensible and has the best business acumen. Theresa valiantly tries to steer the floating disaster of a project towards a safe harbour while attempting to keep Pam and Jackie from strangling each other and trying to stop the high jinks of Betty and Sharon from destroying any hopes of a revival in the theatre’s fortunes.
The first Act sets the scene of the play and introduces us to the main characters and the humour, and pace, is more gentle and observational, there are certainly laughs but they are placed at intervals. However, the action, pace and laugh count certainly heightened in Act Two as the team realise that their plans are unravelling and the panic that ensues produces a great assembly of laugh out loud gags, physical comedy, French and Saunders-esque dance routines impersonations and slapstick which means that the play ends on a real high – even without the appearance of their star name!
We also see that the relationships of the five women start to change especially between Pam and Jackie who start as the worst of enemies but, by the end of the play, start to appreciate each other’s point of view and realise that they have more in common with each other than just being rivals for the affections of Michael. Pam realises that Michael may have put her in to a close working relationship with Jackie not to widen the divide between them but to close it.
The Lichfield Players are experts at this type of stage comedy, and this shows through very clearly, the performances of the gang of five were all very accomplished and professional. The play was ably directed by Sue Evans, who last time took a starring role in the production of Blood Money, and who keeps the play moving along at a lively pace especially as it builds in Act Two. There were several breaks in the play for scene and costume changes and these were cleverly interspersed with the comic parading ‘board’ man, music interludes (including the very catchy Right Said Fred by Bernard Cribbins!) and a montage of former stars the stage and screen shown on a large screen.
Five definitely had fun at the Garrick and the audience clearly enjoyed it too. The Lichfield Players will be performing another Peter Quilter comedy play, The Nightingales, in July 2019 and their next production at the Garrick is Nightmare by Norman Robbins, a classic whodunit with many twists and turns.