Curtains achieves just that in a darkly funny exploration of how to deal with this distressing yet inevitable fact of life.
Saskia Reeves squirms in this complex role and finds mesmerising moments of pent-up guilt, but I struggle to believe her as a middle-aged, buttoned up frump. As the estranged, hippy younger sister, Caroline Catz brings a breath of fresh air to the peeling chintz and Wendy Nottingham is perfectly annoying as their controlling third sibling. I can't help thinking that Curtains might have inspired Shelagh Stephenson’s 1996 play The Memory of Water, which pitches similarly disparate sisters squabbling among themselves at their mother’s funeral, rather than her birthday party. It's even complete with ineffectual husbands and laughter through the tears.
A curtsey to Sandra Voe who, as 86-year old wheelchair bound Ida, delicately plays her part, conveying just enough inward mental and physical pain, skilfully observed in a first act that emotionally stirs. Completing the set of five decent roles for these strong actresses is an understated, small but perfectly formed performance given by Margery Yates as the well-meaning next door neighbour, Mrs Jackson: believable, never knowingly over or underplayed, subtly in the moment at all times. Bravo.
Tim Dutton is an appealing Douglas, who finally erupts with speeches that seem like outlets for the author’s position on end-of-life choices. He rants with earthy charisma, much befitting a farmer who is sick and tired of his nagging wife, making him one of the most likeable (if not completely explored) characters in the house – but then he does have the best lines in the play. Leo Bill and Jonathan Coy, meanwhile, convince as father and son whose moral compasses seem never to align.
The detailed single set by Peter Mckintosh displays beautiful attention to detail, from the choice of set dressing to the once vibrant, now peeling mouldy wallpaper. For me, however, setting an intimate play in such a large space means the action is too far away for some of the gags to land.
I can see why Curtains won awards 30 years ago, but today it feels like it needs updating. It makes interesting points in a very watchable domestic setting about a challenging issue that is always worth discussing, but although Lindsay Posner expertly directs a strong cast, the second half is over-written with dialogue and gets caught in repetitive loops. Nevertheless, Posner uses his light touch to make this production well worth a trip out in the snow.