My thanks to Steerforth Press/Pushkin Press and Netgalley for a review copy of this book.
The Swish of the Curtain is the first of the Blue Door series of books by Pamela Brown, first published in the 1940s. This is a series a goodreads friend of mine had been telling me about for years but I hadn’t so far been able to get my hands on a copy. When I noticed that this series was being brought out again, and this was being offered on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance.
This is essentially the story of seven children between the ages of 9 and 17 (three sets of siblings, a pair among them twins) who are all interested in the stage, and are coincidentally talented in different ways in that direction. By accident, they discover a derelict place in their town of Fenchester where they can try out their talents, and form the Blue Door Theatre Company which stages amateur performances of various plays—from scenes from Shakespeare to pantomimes to plays that they write themselves, complete with songs and music. Lyn is a talented actress, Jeremy a violinist, Sandra designs and sews costumes, while Nigel does the sets (besides all of them acting of course)—the others, Maddy, the youngest, Bulldog, and Vicky too have different talents acting and dancing. Their parents are sceptical of their talents but the children soon prove that they have it in them. While this leads to praise and encouragement from their vicar and even the Bishop, their parents still want them to take up more conventional lines of work. The children, however, dream of going on the stage professionally. Will their dreams be realised, or will they have to give in to their parents’ diktats? To know you will have to read the story of course.
This book did take me a little while to get into (possibly my fault rather than the book) but after I got a little way in, I really began to enjoy it, and wanted to keep reading on to see how the children got on with things. The story of course is of their various adventures in getting their theatre together as well as putting up the various theatricals which they come up with or are asked to put on, but it is also about their ambitions to really do something on stage professionally, and how this leads to much unpleasantness with their parents, who don’t see things in the same way as they do. These parts of the story I thought were really well done. Obviously one finds oneself supporting the children, but one can see the point the parents have since their decisions come from their worries about their children’s future. Also enjoyable were the performances the children put up, since one goes through the whole process with them, from planning and writing the plays to set design, rehearsals, make-up and costumes, to the actual show, it is great fun seeing all of it play out. But aside from all of this, what had me in awe of this book was that it was written by Pamela Brown (who herself did go on stage as well) when she was 14 or 15, and it is remarkable how she has brought out not only the aspects of the performance, the writing of the plays, and songs, but also their parents worries about their future and their ‘clashes’ with the children, and even their dismal (or close to) performance at school—I mean even though the reader’s (and her) support is for the children, Brown does manage to still give a picture of all the characters’ viewpoints, and objectively assess the children themselves (their anger, jealousy, strengths, and weaknesses) and also in some ways, the grown-ups. Very enjoyable read. Four and a half stars.