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Dead funny or just a heavy-handed lecture on mercy killing?

PUBLISHED: 13:25 04 March 2009 | UPDATED: 17:16 16 August 2010

Curtains is the sort of play that Dr Harold Shipman would have approved of, writes Mark Campbell. Billed as a black comedy, the play is modestly described by its author, Stephen Bill, as very funny , while Theatre 62, who recently staged it, promoted it

Curtains is the sort of play that Dr Harold Shipman would have approved of, writes Mark Campbell.

Billed as a black comedy, the play is modestly described by its author, Stephen Bill, as "very funny", while Theatre 62, who recently staged it, promoted it as partly "hilarious". I'm not sure to which part they were referring.

The play I saw could in no way be described as a comedy. It concerns the premeditated murder by suffocation of an elderly relative by her daughter.

After which, the family sit round and debate whether it was the right thing to do. They all more or less agree that it was.

I can't imagine this appealing much to the largely elderly West Wickham audience who watched it recently, although their occasional laughter did surprise me. The death of Ida, brilliantly played by Rosemary Harris, was painfully slow and silent. It was a horrible moment, performed with hideous intent by the pillow-wielding Susan Adam.

It came at the end of a fairly promising first half, which saw a collection of Alan Ayckbourn-type family members attempting to cope with Ida's senile behaviour on the occasion of her 86th birthday.

Act two, however, descended into a worryingly one-sided treatise on the validity of euthanasia. (The fact that Ida was simply murdered is quietly brushed under the carpet.)

Even the unseen family practitioner seemed fully in agreement with the family's actions.

Treated as a broad slapstick comedy it might just have worked (though I doubt it). However, director Muriel Kidd's approach was so heavy-handed and the pace of the acting so sluggish that the flaws of the script were mercilessly exposed.

Tony Skeggs' limited abilities as a dramatic actor were stretched beyond breaking point when forced to emote at Ida's death.

His slow delivery and continual pausing seriously affected the pace of the evening.

Sue Appleyard was excellent though as the down-to-earth Margaret, with Susan Adam a believably neurotic Katherine.

The others did their best with the embarrassingly didactic material.

The next play at Theatre 62, West Wickham, is The Accrington Pals by Peter Whelan, from April 27 to May 2. Tickets: 020 8777 3037.

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