Congratulations to New Forest Players for being one of the first groups to restart productions, particularly as the cast of five were all new members! The choice of a comedy is a good one, as audiences are almost certainly looking for something light-hearted after the experiences of the last sixteen months.
Curtain Up! by Peter Quilter is a 2004 comedy about five women who inherit equal shares in a dilapidated theatre. Together, they plan to bring the place back to life, and the plot covers the ensuing challenges and conflicts. This includes organising a concert where a world-famous star has agreed to perform. The women experience several setbacks and need to hatch a plot to prevent the audience from guessing the truth.
There is a subtle irony in the contrast between the description of the theatre in the play and the excellent facilities at Ballard School, although the set would reflect the script more if the set painters undid some of their otherwise good work! Front of House was well organised, with requests for patrons to wear masks while moving around the venue.
The cast made a slightly nervous start which seemed to cause some issues with audibility, however this was quickly remedied as the whole cast gained in confidence and the comic timing became better.
Claire Nicholson gave a confident performance as Pam, she owned the dialogue and established believable relationships with her daughter Theresa (Ellie Lychele) and her Mum Betty (Sue Darcy). Ellie Lychele as the capable but lonely Theresa (reminding me of Saffy in Absolutely Fabulous) gave a restrained and at times poignant performance as Theresa. Jacqueline Dowler as Sharon had most of the funny lines, often painting a vivid picture of her errant boyfriend! She used her physique and gestures well to establish her presence. Sue Darcy as Betty delivered some good one-liners as the jaded older lady who refuses to be fazed. Debbie Jetten as Jackie delivered a good performance as the lycra-clad ‘other woman’.
The genre of the play, which some have described as a farce, is more of a gentle comedy based on a rather thin plot and some exaggerated characters, which would benefit from a little more pace and energy and I’m sure will increase over the remaining performances. The structure of the play, which has several scenes in both acts, doesn’t help. Although the early scene changes were done efficiently, towards the end there were longer delays between scenes. However, the music covering the scene changes was well chosen.
The costumes were very good throughout. Sharon (Jacqueline Dowler) in particular, looked convincing as a gothic punk, and the gowns worn in the concert scene were extremely glamorous.
In what must have been challenging rehearsal conditions leading up to opening night, director Len Reid is to be congratulated for bringing together a whole cast of new members and leaving the audience with a “feel-good factor” after the big finale.
The run continues nightly until 31 July 2021.