Curtain Up was first published in 1944. The US edition
(1945) was entitled Theatre Shoes; or, Other People's Shoes.
A US edition is still available, but it appears to be out of print
in the UK.
Story | Connections
to Other Books | Background
| Thoughts | Editions
Sorrel, Mark and Holly Forbes have no mother (she died when Holly
was a baby), and their father has been declared missing by the
Navy. When Grandfather (Father's father) dies, they have to go
and live with Grandmother (Mother's mother) in London. They are
surprised to learn that Mother came from a theatrical family:
Grandmother has been an actress, Uncle Henry is a film star, and
both their aunts have married actors. Mother had been an actress
before marrying Father.
Grandmother arranges for the children to go to the Children's
Academy for Dancing and Stage Training (familiar to readers of
Ballet Shoes). When
Madame Fidolia hears that they do not have a lot of money, she
tells the children that Pauline and Posy Fossil have just decided
to give two scholarships to the school - one for an actress and
one for a dancer. She awards these scholarships to Sorrel and
Holly. Petrova Fossil, when she is told about the Forbes children,
immediately provides a scholarship for Mark.
Sorrel is concerned about Mark attending the Academy: he is supposed
to be going into the Navy, and she is not sure that the Academy
will give him the right training. However, she is told not to
At the school, the children meet their two cousins - Miranda,
who is very unpleasant but a talented actress, and Miriam who
wants to be a dancer. At first, the Forbes children struggle with
the work, but Mark's beautiful singing voice soon gains attention,
and Sorrel gradually realises that she has inherited her mother's
talent for acting. Holly proves to have little real talent for
dancing, but her imitations make everyone laugh.
(The M'audition Pieces
article gives details of the speech Sorrel performs at an audition.)
Connections to Other
The Forbes children do not appear in any other books by Noel
Streatfeild. However, because Curtain Up features the Fossil
family, and the Children's Academy, it has connections with a
number of Noel's other books.
The most obvious of these is Ballet
Shoes, Noel's first book for children. It is in this book
that we first meet Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil (who, in Curtain
Up, give scholarships to the Forbes children). When they attend
the Children's Academy for Dancing and Stage Training, they meet
Madame Fidolia and Miss Jay. Winifred, who appears as a teacher
in Curtain Up, is a fellow student of the Fossil girls.
Other books featuring the Fossil girls, and the Children's Academy,
are The Painted Garden
and Apple Bough . They
also appear in two short stories: "What Happened to Pauline,
Petrova and Posy" and "Coralie".
It has been pointed out to me [thank you Rebecca Harrison] that
there is a possible additional connection between Curtain Up
and The Painted Garden.
Early on in The Painted Garden, there is a passing reference
to another ballet student at the Academy called Miriam: "
'I bet you get chosen. You and, of course, Miriam and Sylvia,
Frances, Audrey and Annette.' The six were all small and considered
in the school exceptionally promising" (The Painted Garden,
1949:26). It is possible that this is meant to be the Forbes'
cousin Miriam, who is 8 in Curtain
Up and would therefore be about 12 or 13 in The Painted Garden.
Aside from this, Curtain Up/Theatre Shoes has no connections to the other "shoes" books.
Noel often received letters from readers wanting to know "what
happened next" to their favourite characters. Although at
this time she was not interested in writing direct sequels, such
letters may well have inspired her to revive the Academy in a
wartime setting, and to show how the Fossil sisters were managing
with the changed circumstances.
(This section contains "spoilers" for those who have
not read the book.)
Curtain Up, like The
Children of Primrose Lane, is firmly placed in its wartime
setting. Although the children never suffer through air raids,
they do see the effects when they arrive in London. The difficulties
of wartime rationing also permeate the book.
Angela Bull describes
Curtain Up as Noel's "most detailed look at the
serious theatre" (1984:182). Certainly, it gives a fascinating
picture of a theatrical family that consists of "an amusing
gallery of theatrical types, with their speech and mannerisms
acutely pinpointed" (1984:183).
Bull feels that despite
its many good points, the book falls well below Noel's highest
levels, and that this is due to a failure in presenting Sorrel,
whose "personality remains colourless" (1984:183). She
compares Sorrel to Susan Heath (of Tennis Shoes), arguing
that Susan was unsuccessful as a tennis player "through her
lack of star quality, and the same lack is clearly apparent in
Sorrel" (1984:183). Bull
further argues that "the reader, who is expected to dislike
Miranda [Sorrel's unpleasant cousin], cannot fail to see that
her determined egotism will get her a good deal further in the
theatre than Sorrel's gentleness. This confusion over the exact
roles of the characters throws the whole book slightly out of
Nancy Huse does not entirely
agree with this position, pointing out that Sorrel is "not
necessarily unappealing in her concern to act maternally [to Mark
and Holly]. Furthermore, she is not immune to feelings of jealousy
and competitiveness towards them and toward Miranda" (1994:78).
I would further suggest that Sorrel does not have the same internal
impediments to success that we saw in Susan. Susan, although talented,
does not play well under the pressure of spectators. Sorrel, on
the other hand, even though she is often shy and nervous, invariably
rises to the occasion:
It seemed queer to Sorrel to hear her voice in
that great big place and the first few words left her mouth
in a very wobbly condition. Then all of a sudden the audience's
friendliness came to her like a hug, and she spoke directly
to it as if it were an old friend. (Curtain Up, 1944:150-151.)
It was altogether so odd that just at first the
queerness of everything overawed Sorrel and she could not bring
Titania to life. ... The lines came out of her mouth, just nicely
rehearsed words, but meaning nothing. Then suddenly the studio
was not there; she was in a wood ... and she was speaking in
a proud way to Oberon. (Curtain Up, 1944:226.)
Certainly, the implication of the book is that Miranda will be
a success. She is an exceptionally good actress, and she has enormous
determination: "I'm always going to think about me and nothing
but me, that's the way to get on" (Curtain Up, 1944:260).
However, Noel shows that she does not believe this is the only
way to succeed. Pauline Fossil did not have this attitude, and
Sorrel has at least as much in common with Pauline as she does
Furthermore, Sorrel is not without drive herself. The difference
is, for much of the book she puts this into supporting her sister
and brother - doing her best to see that they are happy, and do
not cause problems at the Academy, while at the same time not
losing sight of the fact that Mark is to go into the Navy. However,
by the end of Curtain Up, Sorrel's focus has shifted
to herself. Although she does not lose the ties with her family,
Mark's desire to leave the Academy and be trained for the Navy
becomes much less immediate when she is preparing for The
Tempest. "Sorrel was crouched on the floor practising
how, by moving her shoulder blades, she could keep her wings continually
on the move. She gave Mark only half her attention." (Curtain
Up, 1944:270-271). Sorrel, like Pauline (and unlike Miranda)
is unselfish, and committed to her family members: if necessary,
she would probably be willing to make a sacrifice like Pauline's
at the end of Ballet Shoes.
The difference with Susan is that she lets everyday events come
before her tennis career - such as playing at school, even though
the standard is low, because it is expected of her. She can support
Nicky, and push her into working when she is feeling lazy, but
in the end she cannot transfer this drive to herself. Sorrel,
on the other hand, proves that she is able to do this, and Noel
clearly feels that this, together with her talent, will make it
possible for her to succeed on the stage.
Editions and Availability
Curtain Up was first published in 1944 by J. M. Dent &
Sons. The illustrations in this edition were by D. L. Mays.
This edition was reprinted in 1946, 1948, 1953 and 1956. From
1948 onwards, the text is slightly amended. This
edition has a "PS" at the end of the "About This
Book" introduction: "This is a new edition. I have made
some small alterations so that those of you who do not remember
the war years will find this book easier to understand."
In 1963 Dent's reissued it (with the amended text) as a "Pennant
Books" hardcover, and 1977 as a "Dent Dolphin"
paperback, both with the with the original D. L. Mays illustrations.
However, the"About this Book" introduction is removed,
complete with its note about alterations to the text.
Puffin Books released an unillustrated, abridged edition
in paperback, in 1983. The small changes from the 1948 Dent edition
are still present, but there are a number of larger ones as well:
for example, the description of Grandmother receiving Christmas
presents from Aunt Lindsey and Aunt Marguerite is cut out. Perhaps
the most significant alteration is the entire removal of Chapter
9, "An Audience". Although this chapter does not advance
the plot much, it does demonstrate the professionalism of the
Academy children, and is thus an important step in Sorrel's development
as an actress. (In due course, I will provide a more detailed
listing of the changes in this edition.)
It was released in the United States in 1945, by Random House.
It was titled Theatre Shoes; or, Other People's Shoes,
and was illustrated by Richard Floethe.
In 1973 there was a new hardcover release by Delcorte Press.
It has been re-released twice by subsidiaries of Random House.
There was a paperback in 1983 by Bantam Dell Doubleday, and another
in 1994 by Alfred A Knopf, Inc. Bullseye Books (with illustrations
by Diane Goode).
As I have not read the US editions, I do not know if the text
was in any way amended.
Still in print
Curtain Up is apparently out of print in the UK. Even
though the current Puffin paperback edition of Ballet
Shoes shows Curtain Up under "Read more in
Puffin", it is not listed on the Puffin website, nor in online
However, in the US Theatre Shoes is still being published
as a Random
House Books for Young Readers trade paperback, with illustrations
by Diane Goode.