Writer: Peter Stone
Cast: Jason Manford, Rebecca Lock, Samuel Holmes, Leah Barbara West, Carley Stenson, Ore Oduba, Alan Burkitt, Martin Callaghan, Emma Caffrey, Mark Sangster, Adam Rhys-Charles, Nia Jermin, Minal Patel, J.R. Ballantyne, Samuel John-Humphreys & Thomas-Lee Kidd
Review Date: January 28 2020
Performances: January 28 2020-February 1 2020, 7.30pm & 2.30pm matinees
Location: Empire Theatre, Liverpool
Duration: 165 Minutes incl. an interval
Age Rating: 10+
Curtains has made its much-anticipated debut at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre with a story that effectively mixes a murder mystery with light-hearted comedy, all within the premise of a major musical gone wrong, making this one of the more unique major shows that will come to Liverpool this year.
In Boston, Massachusetts, the production of Robbin Hood is making its first appearance, but with the caveat that leading female performer Jessica Cranshaw (Nia Jermin) is totally lacking in musical talent, stage direction and everything else that is required from a top theatre actress. Ergo, the cast is shocked but not exactly devastated when Cranshaw unexpectedly collapses, with her later dying in hospital. The Robbin Hood cast, bruising at the brutal reviews that the show had already received from its first night, are more interested in rehearsing for the second performance, and if anything, they are excited at the prospect of trying to make the show succeed without the now-deceased Cranshaw. Enter Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Jason Manford), who is on the case to determine who murdered Cranshaw on the opening night, and to the increased dismay of her now-former colleagues, Frank deems all of them to be suspects, and orders that they remain in the theatre overnight under lockdown (which irritates them more than being accused of murder, which is amusing).
As the story rolls on, Frank questions different cast members one-by-one about their whereabouts, and his first lead comes from the discovery of death threat notes by Niki Harris (Leah Barbara West), who points out that her fingerprints are now all over the evidence. Frank doesn’t just contribute by trying to solve the mystery surrounding the death of Cranshaw, though; as an actor in its own right, Cioffi offers his own guidance about how to make certain scores within Robbin Hood work, so much so that he occasionally (albeit temporarily) ditches the idea of trying to find the killer because he is preoccupied with trying to think of ideas for the suspected cast to make their troubled production succeed, Frank also develops a budding romance with Niki, which does not go unnoticed by her other cast mates.
Meanwhile, the situation takes a twist when it becomes clear that Jessica might not be the only victim, meaning that her death is not an isolated case, and that the person responsible for the increasing number of tragedies has an ulterior motive that goes beyond the initially-assumed belief that the perpetrator was simply trying to take out the dedicated-yet-untalented Cranshaw. This only makes Frank’s job more difficult, but as the evidence builds up and as the potential suspects are narrowed down, Cioffi gets closer and closer to finding out the truth, as well as getting closer to Niki, all while Robbin Hood’s remaining cast prepares for a second performance that represents a do-or-die (pardon the pun) situation for a production that few of its performers wish to be a part of in the first place.
Murder mysteries are always a lot of fun, with the keys to making it work being the planting of numerous seeds and potential red herrings, as well as a multitude of potential suspects, eye-catching twists and turns, and an ending that wraps everything up in a manner that might not have seemed obvious, but ultimately makes sense. Curtains manages to tick all of these boxes, along with the crucial use of humour; it doesn’t incorporate any tasteless jabs that make light of situations which in another context could seem dark, but instead it is pure slapstick, with the increased ludicrous nature of their situation emphasised throughout, sometimes by breaking the fourth wall for this show within a show. There are clever in-jokes as well, but this incorporates humour that is easy to understand whether you’re a veteran attendee of theatre shows or whether this marks the first time that you are watching a stage show, meaning that it can and does appeal to everyone.
This is partly because of its talented crew of performers. Jason Manford does a great job as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi, managing to seem authoritative and intelligent while also letting his guard slip just enough to garner laughs at his expense, all while demonstrating some nifty acting and singing chops. To me, Samuel Holmes is tremendous as Christopher Belling, throwing in all sorts of one-liners that poke fun at the situation that the Robbin Hood guys and gals find themselves in. Meanwhile, Rebecca Lock is very good as Carmen Bernstein, particularly for her singing, though she also has some great lines. Incidentally, Curtains has plenty of extensive singing and dancing numbers, which add an air of credibility to this production, as do the well-crafted backdrops that elevate the show up another level. If anything, my only criticism is that this show goes a bit too long; with around 10-15 minutes trimmed away, it might have felt like a more tightly-produced package, which could have made for a better overall evening.
Overall, Curtains is a very enjoyable show which covers the entire spectrum of music, comedy, mystery and drama. The show runs all week at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre, and it is well worth checking out. To quote the cast themselves, Curtains is “nicely played”!
Target Audience: 10+
Content: 1/5 – Infrequent Moderate Language
Overall Rating: 8.5/10 – Excellent
Curtains runs at the Empire Theatre until Saturday February 1 2020. To buy tickets, click here or call 0844 871 3017.