White Bear Theatre
Reviewed – 1st December 2017
“Genuine pathos lifts the story from the dangers of superficiality”
“Yes, they’re all out there; the theatre community royalty. The finest collection of personality disorders this side of the Freudian nightmare”
Welcome to the world of Stanley Shenton, once a respected classical actor, but now relegated to appearing in murder mysteries on seaside piers. And welcome to Simon Bradbury, the (real life) actor who plays Stanley in ‘Curtain Call’, the show that kicks off the White Bear’s Christmas season. Bradbury is also the writer. The warning light inevitably switches on here, flashing the words ‘vanity project’, but this is rapidly extinguished. In this three-hander, Bradbury selflessly refuses to steal all the best lines for himself, generously doling them out to each character. His acerbic wit and finely tuned observations permeate the dialogue and make this play a joy to watch throughout.
It is always interesting to get a glimpse of what goes on ‘behind the scenes’. The phrase itself conjures up a clandestine world, entry into which is a privilege. This is where the truth lies. Behind the mask, and beneath the makeup. There are inevitable echoes of Michael Frayn’s ‘Noises Off’, and more noticeably Ricky Gervais’ ‘Extras’, but the cast manage to transcend this comparison by sidestepping caricature and making their characters totally believable.
Stanley, having been fired after his last disastrous Sunday matinee, is visited by Shelley Kline, an ex-girlfriend who hopes to rescue him from his desperate straights by offering him a job with her. Now a successful theatre director, she wants him to play Gloucester in an upcoming production of ‘King Lear’ in the West End. One of the problems, however, is that Rod C. Tanner, an old friend and rival for Shelley’s affections, is playing the king himself. Complicating things further is Rod’s TV star status and Stanley’s resentment and feelings of inadequacy.
Bradbury’s Stanley is weighed down with practically a whole chip shop on his shoulder. His boorishness, however, does not deter his old flame (touchingly portrayed by Heide Yates, the Canadian singer/actress in her UK debut) from trying to get him back on track. Yates evokes a fine mix of altruism and love behind her character’s motives. But just as you think this is the main story, Aran Bell’s Rod C Tanner enters. The play undoubtedly steps up a notch. The banter and rivalry between Bradbury and Bell would give Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau a run for their money. The humour is dark and often relentless as they hack away at each other, yet this is no lightweight comedy, it is ultimately touching, and Bell’s transformation from his gloating antagonism to eventually identifying a true friend in need is heart warming. That is the inherent strength in the writing. Weighty issues, such as alcoholism or the very real affliction of chronic stage fright, are given the comedy treatment but not demeaned in any way. Genuine pathos lifts the story from the dangers of superficiality.
Brian Croucher’s direction keeps the energy flowing throughout and Beth Colley’s costumes are worthy of a West End theatre. The White Bear has always been acclaimed for its pioneering dedication to new writing and quality theatre. This is no exception. The combined talents and shared experience of this troupe clearly shows. Well worth a visit indeed.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Justin Thomas
is at the White Bear Theatre until 16th December