Curtain Call is an uneven play and production. It borders on being very funny and then tragic but commits to neither. There are also moments where the acting is solid and other times when it devolves into mush. Curtain Call may not be groundbreaking in its narrative or dramatic style but it is relevant and entertaining in parts.
Curtain Call is written by Simon Bradbury and is currently in its premiere season at the White Bear, Kennington. This is the first play by Bradbury to be presented in London. One of his previous works, Chaplin, won the 2017 Liverpool Hope Playwrighting Award.
The first impression is given by the traditional box set. Beth Colley has designed a space that is naturalistic and matches the script. The detail is fine and correct down to minute details like the make-up removal wipes. In a field that produces abstract and minimalist plays by the dozen this production is a relief. It is a tad dated in style but it delivers a narrative of contemporary interest just the same.
Stanley, once a respected classical actor, is now relegated to appearing in murder mysteries on seaside piers. Found by a former lover who persuades him to appear as Gloucester in her production of King Lear, he is catapulted into the company of his estranged TV star friend who is playing the king himself.
The role of Stanley is played by the writer, Simon Bradbury. The opening scene features Stanley as an ageing and failing actor who is being let go from his latest tortured gig. His memory lapses appear to be triggered by excessive alcohol consumption.
Shelley Klein witnesses his latest embarrassing performance but still throws Stanley a lifeline job offer which Stanley immediately throws back in her face. The cost of working with his former friend Rod C Tanner seems too high a cost to pay, especially as Tanner takes the bigger role.
It’s obvious that Stanley is the greater actor brought to hard times and it comes to pass that Klein and Tanner are at the root of his decline. Where this play excels is going into the depths of Stanley’s despair and alcoholic fug. In the scene of his lowest point, Bradbury commits to portraying the character in all his glorious flaws. The play might have ended there but for good or bad, it was given a happy ending.
In the role of Shelley Klein, the former girlfriend now turned successful theatre director, is Heidi Yates. Even though there are moments of clarity there are not enough for Yates to fully inhabit the character and solidify the complex relationships with the men.
Rod C Tanner is the television star who would be king and his character really takes hold in the second act. Despite being dressed as Moses and contending with much toilet humour, Aran Bell delivers a well defined and timed performance. Moreover Bell gave Bradbury the energy he needed to climb to his climactic scene of despair and then to authentically show the quiet support needed in the final scenes.
Adding style and a particularly evocative moment in the spotlight for the lead character Stanley Shenton is the clever lighting design of Miles Fisher. Equally effective is a complex sound design by Annie Fletcher with its copious number of toilet sounds.
Curtain Call may not be groundbreaking in its narrative or dramatic style but it is relevant and entertaining in parts.