What we thought of Curtains show at Sunderland Empire starring Jason Manford which combines musical and whodunnit to solve your night out mystery

From Hamlet to Noises Off, the play within a play has a noble tradition.

Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 2:19 pm
(from left) Martin Callaghan as investor Oscar Shapiro, Samuel Holmes as Christopher Belling, Jason Manford as Frank Cioffi, Rebecca Lock as Carmen Bernstein and Carley Stenson as Georgia Hendricks

And Curtains proves more than worthy to be included in such illustrious company.

It takes us behind the scenes of ‘Robbin' Hood of the Old West,’ a musical being pulled together in 1959 Boston ahead of a planned transfer to New York.

When leading lady Jessica Cranshaw comes to a sticky end on opening night, Lt Frank Cioffi finds himself with more than one mystery to solve.

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The ensemble cast

Who is the killer? Why are so many talented artists, front and backstage, working for union minimum wage in Boston rather than coining it in on Broadway? And why are so many of the company all too keen to see the production fold?

As the bodies mount up, musical theatre fan Cioffi finds himself facing a race against time not only to find a murderer but also to solve the troubled production’s problems in time for a second shot at the reviews.

Clever staging shifts the audience effortlessly from one side of the scenery to the other and the production blends backstage numbers with songs from the fictional production to great effect.

Stand-up Jason Manford takes main billing as Cioffii. It’s not unusual for shows such as this to cast a ‘name’ star in a big role, but leave the vocal heavy lifting to the rest of the company.

Samuel Holmes comes perilously close to stealing the show as Christopher Belling

There’s no need for such a tactic here, however, with Manford proving more than capable of handling the biggest numbers.

He’s helped, however, by the strength-in-depth of the cast. Hollyoaks star Carley Stenson and The One Show’s Ore Oduba have real chemistry as estranged husband and wife songwriting team Georgia Hendricks and Aaron Fox, while Rebecca Lock turns in a barnstorming performance as hard-bitten producer Carmen Bernstein.

And they are more than capably supported by Leah Barbara West, as love interest Niki Harris, Alan Burkitt as star Bobby Pepper and Emma Caffrey, as sweetly ambitious Bambi.

And Samuel Holmes is fantastic as waspish English director Christopher Belling, staying just the right side of camp to deliver some of the show’s best lines.

Curtains is at Sunderland Empire until Saturday – it would be a crime to miss it.