Review: Quartet, by Ronald Harwood, New Wolsey Theatre, until Sat March 3
- Credit: Antony Thompson/TWM
Four veteran actors playing four veteran opera singers fill the stage for two hours in this brilliantly conceived chamber piece by playwright Ronald Harwood. One central question occupies their thoughts: ‘Are they the same person they were when they were young?’
These talented performers were once the toast of their profession; now they are residents of the Beecham Home for retired musicians. They are feeling their age. Their voices have gone, their bodies are failing them, in some cases their memories are starting to let them down but despite all this they still feel young inside and are having to come to terms with the fact that they can no longer live an independent life.
The four stars: Paul Nicholas, who plays the sexually optimistic Wilfred, Jeff Rawle who plays the thoughtful Reginald, Wendi Peters, who embodies the eccentric Cecily and Sue Holderness who remarkably makes the egocentric Jean Horton human and vulnerable, all deliver pitch perfect performances.
The direction by New Wolsey artistic director Peter Rowe, is swiftly-paced and yet still senstive to the nuances and beats of this thoughtful comedy-drama. Ronald Harwood’s writing has the ability to make you laugh and then bring a lump to your throat in successive lines.
The secret to the play’s success lies in the fact that you quickly regard these characters with their frailities and their quirky personalities as your friends. They are personable and you like spending time in their company. Even when their harmonious existance is disrupted by the arrival of Reginald’s ex-wife, the rift doesn’t last for long.
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The plot is a simple one – each year the residential home stages a concert to mark the birthday of composer Guesippe Verdi. With the arrival of Jean Horton comes the opportunity for our four leading lights to recreate a celebrated performance of Riggoletto but in order to perform they have to simultaneously lay to rest ghosts from their past while coming to terms with the present.
It’s a play full of laughter, touching emotion and great affection, played without any trace of sentimentality or caricature by an experienced cast, who work hard at making each of the residents into a well-rounded three dimensional character.
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As our stars perform one last time you can see the years fall away. Quartet is a wonderful testament to the restorative power of theatre.