Review: Curtain Call, White Bear Theatre

Simon Bradbury’s Curtain Call is a clumsy comedy about love, alcoholism, fear, stubbornness and reconciliation. It follows the diatribes and demi-dramas of three estranged friends — one TV star, one failed theatre actor and one director — as they attempt to recreate the Shakespearian tragedy, King Lear.

Bradbury wrote the script of Curtain Call and also stars in it, playing alcoholic protagonist, and wholly unlikable character, Stanley Shenton. The story starts with a disgraced Stanley being fired from a show on the fringes of the theatrical world. It is then that his ex-girlfriend, Shelly Klein, conveniently appears after years of silent separation. Now a successful theatre director, she offers him the role of Gloucester in her performance of King Lear. He reluctantly acquits, although not without expressing his displeasure that his ex-best friend, now TV star, Rod C Tanner will be playing the king.

What ensures is a series of scenes that sing to a certain type of humour, the crass, the expletive, and the exaggerated. It is slapstick comedy that has half the audience howling, and the other half recoiling. Director, Brian Croucher devotes too much time to the protagonists problematic bowl movements, made worse by the speaker being positioned at the side of the stage.

The dialogue, when it isn’t focused on tummy troubles, did however have glorious moments, making occasional Faustian, and Shakespearean references. Dramatic meaning is interwoven into the narrative, mostly notable in the fact that Stanley Shenton suffers, just as Gloucester did from hamartia, an “error in judgement” that leads to his downfall. In the case of Gloucester, it is the trust he puts in Edmund and his rash condemnation of Edgar. In Stanley’s case, it is the trust he had previously put in Rod, and his rash condemnation of his love, Shelly.

There is something refreshing in a performance not propped up by the allure of youth. Rather, Curtain Call is the story after the story, an ending to the unresolved quarrels of youth. At its core, there are complex undertones of pathos and tragedy. However, breadth, depth and meaning are diminished by overplayed humour and a lack of intellectual firepower from any of the characters, regardless of the energy poured into the parts.

Curtain Call is playing at White Bear Theatre until December 16 2017.

Photo: Justin Thomas