Reviewed by Nigel Chester
Sheffield’s Lyceum is probably one of the most beautiful theatres in the country, built in 1899 by Sprague to a traditional design with a capacity of over a thousand over three floors. From the moment you step through the doors, you know you’re going to have a brilliant night out. There are bars selling both hot and cold drinks. Kiosk for snacks and an area for merchandising. The Lyceum always produces a fantastic program that is high quality. And if you have parked in Charles Street Q car park, the Lyceum, upon request, will give you a voucher for the first hour free.
We were settled into our seats efficiently and saw our first curtain of the night. The spotlight played across it and the band for the nigh struck up under the directorship of Alex Beetschen.
Curtains is like nothing I have seen before, it was all those 1950’s western musicals, Calamity Jane, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Oklahoma. They were the staple of my childhood Sunday afternoon viewing on the valved black and white television. Mixed up with 1970 detective programs, Jason Manford playing Lieutenant Frank Cioffi who, in his own words was channelling his inner Columbo and had a surprisingly good singing voice and clearly knew his way around an audience.
The plot of the play is a new, but failing theatre company, trying to get to Broadway. It’s obvious that some of the company are more talented than others. When on opening night the leading lady is taken ill and subsequently dies. We see Frank Cioffi enter, who is more into his hobby of am-dram than the murder he is investigating and becomes starstruck by his new suspects.
Curtains is a play within a play. Mise en abyme to give it its literary term. Play one is the staging of the musical Robin Hood and play two is the investigation into the murder. And a little like Russian dolls nesting, in there is Frank, looking for an opportunity to influence Robin Hood. Somehow it’s an easy watch with big songs and so many funny one-liners, Kander and Ebb the musical partnership behind Curtains are better known for such musicals as Chicago and Cabaret and I think even though there are lots of good songs there is nothing stand-out great. We did revisit versions of the same songs and that was great fun, to watch the western develop. Even though the troop were falling over dead bodies. The show went on.
Curtains has a great cast including Ore Oduba of strictly fame, and the sheer energy in the choreography and voices particularly that of Carley Stenson is first class. Curtains is brilliantly produced every aspect is slick the scene changes are amazing. At one point we move from the front to the back of the stage. I feel sure that the whole Lyceum did a 180-degree turn. The lighting was integral to placing us in the right play and at no point did I get confused. The exploration of relationships was integral to both the stories, mostly romantic love but the dynamics between the company owner Carmen Bernstein (Rebecca Lock) and her would be actress daughter Elaine who had named herself Bambi (Emma Caffrey) for hilarious reasons was the highlight for me Caffrey’s dancing and Locks voice were sublime.
Would I tell my friends to go to see Curtains? Absolutely. It was fantastic fun. It was more bizarre than brilliant. Sometimes one story got in the way of the other and I invested more into the murders than the musical western. And if it had been a book, I might have skipped a few pages to get to the plot. Having said that, the swirling skirts and thigh slapping was professionally executed. I feel it a challenge to be a fierce critic as Carman and Oscar ask “what sort of man” when reading the opening nights reviews.
This opening night was without doubt better than that of Robin Hood, as nobody died either figuratively or literally.
Tickets cost from £15 (booking fees may apply).
Curtains is at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield from 29 October to 2 November 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or call the box office on 0114 249 6000.
Lyceum Theatre, Norfolk St, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S1 1DA | 0114 249 6000