Curtain Up (by Noel Streatfeild) - also known as Theatre Shoes

Noel Streatfeild was one of my favourite authors as a child, and also during my teenage years. She wrote an early example of crossover fiction which is also interesting to adults; I read one or two of her books to my sons when they were younger, and from time to time enjoy re-reading her novels. She is probably best known for 'Ballet Shoes', but wrote quite a number of other children's novels.

It's a long time since I last read 'Curtain Up'. My version is a rather tatty hardback which I probably bought at a charity shop; since then, it was re-named 'Theater Shoes' in the USA, and also re-published as 'Theatre Shoes' in the UK. Sometimes older versions with the original title can still be found second-hand.

This book would probably be of interest to anyone who enjoyed 'Ballet Shoes', since the three Fossil sisters (Pauline, Petrova and Posy) have cameo roles as young adults, and we learn some of what they have been doing since they separated to start their different careers, and how they were affected by World War II.

For 'Curtain Up'/'Theatre Shoes' is set during the war. Sorrel, Mark and Holly have been brought up in a vicarage, with a slightly eccentric grandfather who takes little notice of them. Their mother died when they were young, and their father has recently been posted as 'missing'. Their mainstay is Hannah, a comfortably large housekeeper/nanny who loves to sing hymns.

Grandfather finishes a book he has been writing, and then passes away peacefully. So the children are taken to London, where they learn that their considerably more eccentric grandmother - whom they have never met - used to be a famous actress. They find that they have cousins and aunts and uncles too, none of whom have ever been mentioned to them before, since Hannah rather disapproves of the stage, and the family cast their mother off when she married their father.

Much to the children's dismay, they are to be moved from their current private schools to a stage training school in London, where they have to learn dancing, singing and acting as well as other lessons... and have no idea if they will cope.

It's a pleasant book with good characterisation, giving a good picture of life in a theatre school during rationing. Sorrel is a typical dependable eldest child, Mark a lively boy who would much rather play cricket than sing or dance, and Holly an imaginative little girl who likes to wear pretty clothes.

They're all likeable people, and the plot is interesting, even though I vaguely remembered most of it. I was surprised at how moving (if predictable) the ending was, too.

This book is probably best for girls between the ages of about 7 and 14, but suitable for anyone of any age wanting a light read with a little social and stage history thrown in.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 4th November 2010

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