Curtains is a cleverly comical experience that does wonderful things by playing on the recursive nature of being a show within a show.

When you sit down to watch the opening of Curtains, what you’re probably not expecting to see is a wild-west set and the actors playing out the final scene of a production that you’ve not seen the start to. You might briefly wonder if you stepped into the wrong room. It’s not until the curtains quickly drop down and rise up again, revealing the rear of the wild west sets and the actors bowing to distant darkness, that it really becomes clear what you’re looking at.

Credit: Richard Davenport

It’s this sort of bait-and-switch, fourth-wall break with-a-wink type of humour where Curtains really excels. It would be easy for a show based on a theatre production to become self-indulgent, but instead, it’s used to great effect. It allows for some varied set and costume design, as well as a subtle but clever distinction to help to manage expectations and show the difference between “in-character” and “out-of-character” scenes.

There’s a slight difference in the style of music used, for example, when the song is being sung by the characters directly. These are typically more intimate and show a more vulnerable and emotional side to characters that are otherwise abrasive and at odds with one another. The character depth of that this allows to shine through is something that you might otherwise not expect from a comedy focused murder mystery.

Credit: Richard Davenport

Big numbers are still in the show, of course, those large songs that involve a stacked cast and large moving pieces around the set, but typically these are used when the song is one that’s part of the production that the characters are putting on. It allows for these more grandiose numbers while still maintaining the general character-focused drama that the production is chiefly about.

The characters in the show are varied and play on their archetypes well, including a director that is equal parts hilarious and cutting, the naive but capable detective with stars in his eyes, and the seemingly air-headed but talented starlet. The show does a good job of delivering the expected characters and revealing a deeper layer underneath, detailing not just who they are but how they came to be.

The cast of curtains
Credit: Richard Davenport

Given that this show promotes itself as a whodunnit, this is the one area that it does feel lacking, as the mystery is less a mystery and more of a sequence of reveals. There’s a lack of clues given to the audience, which makes it difficult to become engaged in the mystery when you know you just lack the information to solve it. That said, there are some clever twists and red herrings thrown in, that give the show a satisfying conclusion.

Curtains is a very competent show, with stellar performances from the cast and depth to the characters that is understated but well executed. The musical numbers are catchy and varied, with the more intimate fair being where the show really shines. The show is packed with laughs and gags and knows when to use them. If you get the chance to see this one, then you should.

We saw the show at the Manchester Palace Theatre, but you can catch it on the rest of its tour in Cardiff, Birmingham, London and more. Find all tour dates for Curtains here.