As theatre companies continue to return to live performances following enforced hiatuses from the Covid-19 pandemic, tonight’s performance possibly hits a bit closer to home than it usually would.
Curtain Up! by Peter Quilter introduces us to five women who inherit a dilapidated theatre and set about trying to raise funds for its revival. They settle on hosting a charity concert, with a guest turn from the global megastar, Liza Minelli, who has shocked them by agreeing to appear. But when things go awry, the troupe go to great lengths to keep the truth from their audience.
Directed by Eliane Davie, this is a gentle comedy very much reliant on the dynamic between the very different women. Carlton Players’ veteran Elizabeth Youster takes on the role of Pam, ex-wife of the theatre’s previous owner, the recently deceased Michael. She delivers a competent portrayal of Pam’s uptight nature and delivers her funniest lines with just the right level of scepticism and sarcasm.
She is matched by Linda O’Brien as her former Mother-in-Law, Betty who sways amusingly between doddering forgetfulness to withering put-downs (usually aimed at Pam) with great relish.
Fiona Williams as daughter Theresa, and Liz Gould as second wife Jackie, have tougher ‘straight man’ roles to portray. Williams successfully brings out Theresa’s earnest nature and does a great job with her scene as MC for the big night. Gould makes Jackie a nice foil to Pam’s stress-ridden outbursts although she occasionally seems unsure of her lines and cues.
Holly Trentham gives an enjoyable performance as Michael’s former PA and self-declared ‘punk elephant’ Sharon, bringing out her warm and bubbly ‘no filter’ style.
There are some opportunities for laugh-out-loud moments in the play and the ensemble have mixed success, landing some with great skill whilst losing others, maybe not giving the audience quite enough time to react before moving on with the scene. One of the biggest giggles comes from the regular appearance of the director to inform us of how much time has elapsed (and I’d question how necessary this was).
There are two dance-aerobic sequences in the show too, choreographed by Diane Price. The first is nicely energetic with plenty of chuckle-inducing flailing arms and legs. The second feels more restrained and a bit repetitive in its movements, not helped by some slightly painful on the eye disco-style lighting, but our five ladies deliver it with big smiles and enthusiasm.
The cast and crew have clearly put in lots of effort, all playing a part in the various behind-the-scenes elements of the show too, such as set painting and costumes which suit the individual characters. Overall, an enjoyable evening, with some nice comical touches that allows each actor to have a moment to shine in this warm-hearted story.
Curtain Up! is on till Saturday 30th May. For tickets, visit Carlton Players Birkenhead https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on?q=Little%20Theatre%20Birkenhead
Reviewer: Lou Steggals
Reviewed: 27th April 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★