By Virginia Proud
Languid saxophone introduces us to a mid-century living room, in an unnamed country town. A gentle breeze wafts through the curtain. Here, Francis and Leon are living out their twilight years as boarders in the home of Mrs Ada Monroe. They bicker back and forth, with a familiarity that does not quite stretch to intimacy.
Daniel Keene’s writing shines in these moments between the two men. Gil Tucker and Paul Weingott are a delight, Tucker’s Leon is feisty and dogmatic, with a tendency to drift to the existential, and Weingott’s more literally minded Frank is alternately bemused, and irritated by his companion. He sinks into the armchair as if he’d like to be swallowed whole. Their exchange trips and turns on a dime.
It’s late and the men are waiting for Ada, who returns the worse for wear and despondent, after a day visiting her husband’s grave. The town has changed, people have moved on, there is no longer solace in the familiar. It is a splendid performance by Milijana Čančar, enigmatic and unpredictable. It almost saves the long and sadly tedious monologue she is gifted by the script.
Nuggets lie trapped within the monologue; Keene’s observations here for example, about the rituals of acquaintance instantly resonate. Unfortunately, the weight of words left me slumped in my seat. Listening to someone in their cups rambling on isn’t terribly entertaining, even when its theatre.
The Curtain purports to explores the idea of dependency, however I feel that Keene has not quite realised his intention with this work. Despite a promising opening scene, the relationship between the two men and their landlady is barely explored. There is little backstory to give the audience a sense of them, their lives, how they ended up knocking on Ada’s front door. Nor how they have they rattled along for these past years. Ada has also kept her distance, to the extent that she is still referred to as Mrs Monroe. The production notes tell us that these are three lonely people who find friendships difficult, but in the telling of the story, we do not learn why, nor is there change. This living arrangement is commercial, and convenient, and that leaves us not with relationship, but merely proximity. There may be dependency of a sort, but it lacks the emotional stakes that makes us care about the outcome.
When, for the first time, the characters share a meal, a low-key melancholic camaraderie builds in the face of impending change. Here, we are offered hints of what could have been, with a brief foray into Francis’s past and an eloquent dissection of the difference between thrashing and beating, on a child’s psyche. This is powerful stuff, it’s a desperately needed insight and beautifully delivered by Weingott. These are the emotional layers that this piece desperately needs.
The production overall is well supported by Ben Keene’s soft and elegant jazz, I would have enjoyed more of this as a soundscape to the production, particularly given the set included a record cabinet. The design is lovely, with practical lighting, and I appreciated the domestic touches that assisted with scene transitions.
The Curtain teases with brilliant moments, but there is an abundance of less interesting stuff and low impact monologues. I can’t help feeling that this is a piece more interesting on the page, than on the stage. It’s a shame, because at its core lies an important theme; we will land in our dotage in increasingly greater numbers, and increasingly without an extended family support network. How will we manage? Who can we rely on? Unfortunately, the Curtain seems to suggest, no one but ourselves.
3/5 direction, 4/5 performance, 4/5 production