Curtain Up/Theatre Shoes by Noel Streatfeild


It’s over 35 years since I last read this book, and I’d forgotten how infuriating Noel Streatfeild’s over-use of Cockney rhyming slang is.  “I’m worn to a shred by the time I’ve laid the Cain and Abel, and when it comes to dishing up I never know how to drag my plates of meat up the apples and pears.”  Seriously?  Not even Mick Carter in EastEnders talks like that.  It sounds like a sketch by The Two Ronnies.  As for “putting your hand in your sky rocket” … don’t even go there.  However, if you can endeavour to ignore that, this is a very good book.  All three of the main characters are genuinely nice – the stock annoying brat, in this case their cousin, is only a minor character – and very realistic.  It’s also interesting because of the wartime setting, which includes the news that Petrova Fossil from Ballet Shoes is helping to build aircraft for the war effort.  Petrova is a star. I remember all the fuss about Charlene in Neighbours being a Girl Mechanic, and that was in the 1980s!  As a kid, I wanted to be Pauline, rather than Petrova, though.  Pauline, or Sorrel, or Gemma.  I can’t sing and I can’t dance, but (in those long-ago days when I actually had the confidence to stand up on a primary school stage) I used to think I could act.   I can’t.  But kids in Streatfeild books are always talented.

Our three kids – Streatfeild likes families with three or four kids – are Sorrel, Mark and Holly Forbes, who have been living a Terribly Respectable life with their vicar grandfather, their mum having died and their sailor dad being missing in action.  When their grandfather dies, they have to go to live with their unknown maternal grandmother, who turns out to be the matriarch of a theatrical dynasty.  The grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins are all fairly stereotypical theatre sorts, but, apart from the grandmother herself, they aren’t too OTT.  One of the cousins is a brat, As I’ve said, but there’s nearly always a brat in a Streatfeild book – think Lydia Robinson, Nicky Heath, etc..

The grandfather had been paying their school fees, and the schools apparently can’t wait until his will’s gone through probate and his funds have been released.  The grandmother, despite living in a large house and employing the rhyming-slang-talking housekeeper, and now the grandfather’s housekeeper as well, is broke.  So the children go to a theatre school run by a friend of hers, Madame Fidolia of Ballet Shoes fame, and receive financial assistance from the Fossils of Ballet Shoes fame (why??).  Sorrel turns out to be good at acting.  Mark is good at singing, but is eventually allowed to return to his original plan of following his dad into the Navy.  Holly is meant to be good at dancing, but turns out to be a comedienne, whilst their nice cousin Miriam, daughter of a comedian, turns out to be a dancer.  The nasty cousin, Miranda, is also an actress, but Sorrel outperforms her in The Tempest – hooray!!  My brain always gets the production of The Tempest in this book mixed up with the one in the Antonia Forest Kingscote books, for some reason.  Maybe it’s because they both involve characters called Miranda.

There’s a lot of whingeing about being poor, but, more interestingly, we see the effect of rationing and wartime shortages on their ability to buy the items required at a theatre school.  That’s surprisingly unusual in GO books.  However, there’s an absolutely cringeworthy scene in which Madame Fidolia tells the other pupils that they should feel sorry for the Forbes kids, because they’ve got no-one at home to see that they look nice (rather insulting to the two faithful family retainers, who bend over backwards to help the kids).  This is apparently meant to be a positive thing, but how mortified would you have been at your whole school being told to feel sorry for you?!  We also see the theatre school kids putting on performance for injured service personnel in hospitals, and for service personnel on leave – a nice wartime touch.

The three children all come across quite well, especially Sorrel.  I always quite like Streatfeild’s responsible older kids, and Sorrel is particularly appealing – sensible and responsible but without having any of Ann Robinson’s prissiness.  Mark refuses to be pushed into a career that he doesn’t want, and Holly is very stoic when told that Posy Fossil’s dancing scholarship is to go to Miriam rather than to her.  Everyone seems fairly realistic, despite the luvvie-ishness (is that a word?) and eccentricities of some of the family members: there’s nothing in the books that really grates.

I don’t know how I missed this one when I did my Streatfeild re-read around 10 years ago, but somehow I did.  Oh well, I’ve re-read it now.  Very good book!  Or do I mean “fish hook” 🙂 ?!




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