Keene is an existential poet of the stage. But squinting through the bleakness, audiences may readily discern his talent for comedy, usually of a dry, gallows humour variety.
You don’t have to look too hard for it here. The two old men in The Curtain – Leon (Gil Tucker) and Francis (Paul Weingott) – are a bickering comedy duo in the mould of Hamm and Clov in Endgame, or the vagrants in Waiting For Godot, and if they drive each other mad at least they’re not alone.
Their cantankerous co-dependency has a much fuller comedic ambit than Keene usually aims for, and the performances can be very funny, though they struggle with the intricacies of comic timing. There’s an airlessness to their breakneck delivery that wants modulation, and a backdrop of subtle emotion (barely sketched in this production) that must lurk inexpressibly behind the language.
Still, the characters are instantly recognisable and acutely portrayed, coping with silence and loneliness in radically different ways.
Tucker’s Leon is a garrulous, full-of-himself chatterbox willing to expatiate on any subject – an armchair philosopher, a compulsive dispenser of unsolicited advice, constantly spilling words into the void.
Weingott’s Francis has a gloomy, defeated air, resentfully enduring his irritating companion as another cross to bear (and having been taught by the Christian Brothers, he knows a few things about being crucified).
Ada is just as stuck as her boarders, and Cancar falls easily into a playful scene with familiar strangers, before fragile bonhomie is stripped away in a desperate monologue. And when the landlady does disrupt their eccentric triple orbit, the metaphor of performance gets yoked into emotionally ambiguous double service.
Beng Oh’s production is competent, but perhaps wrestles too hard with the uncertainties of the text to crystallise it into a tangible dramatic interpretation. You leave feeling there’s much more to discover in the play.