Bethany Stuart reviews Curtains Down at the Bike Shed Theatre on January 21st as part of the From Devon with Love Festival.
Curtain Down is a one-act play, written and directed by local playwright Rachel Feeny-Williams, which spotlights the bittersweet realities of a career in the arts, focusing on what happens when a star’s light unceremoniously goes out and the unlikelihood of it lighting in the first place. The audience meets a struggling drama graduate, Natalie, after her flight from the stages of Butlin’s Christmas performance, and tracks her interaction with the other characters in the Curtain Down pub – something of a theatrical graveyard.
Cecile Charles – or “Si Si” – a washed up leading lady turned land lady opens the play with a scene reminiscing about her former glory against the very fitting backdrop of the low-lit and well-worn Bike Shed Theatre, giving the scene an appropriate intimacy as we delve into the character’s past. Feeny-Williams creates some genuinely interesting characters to depict the differing struggles of a life in the performing arts; Ashleigh is the sharp-tongued exotic dancer whose failures catalyse an aggressively defensive streak which comes to the fore several times throughout the play; Maxwell Kensington is the quintessentially bearded Shakespearean actor with a complex about performing anything less than the work of the Bard, and then there’s Bill who simply responds “I’m a tree” – suffering the inevitable psychological effects of long term exposure to physical theatre.
There is much in the play’s fabric then that has the potential for a captivating and melancholy exploration of what happens off-stage when the audience have gone and the lights are out. However, there was something ever so slightly stilted and uncomfortable in the characters’ interaction on stage for me that hindered the play’s true capturing of the downheartedly ironic tone that would have made it a more striking piece and which I think was endeavouring to come out of the script. The dialogue was well-written and witty, creating a positive response from the audience, particularly when delivered with the cutting edge of the actress who played Ashleigh, but again in places took away from the necessary tension.
A one act play has its inevitable challenges, needing to engage with its audience from the outset, fill every scene with something meaningful and take us on a journey in a very short space of time. Whilst I applaud Feeny-Williams for creating all the potential for this to be a success, I was left somewhat underwhelmed by its execution.
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