Quartet is a comic opera. Not in the sense of being an opera but rather in that it’s a comedy about opera. Or to be precise about four ex-opera stars who find themselves thrown together in a retirement home specifically for former opera performers. The four are two men Reg, Wilfred, and two women Cecily and Jean. The action takes place in the music room of a country house in Kent in 1998. Wilfred (Paul Nicholas ) lays down some ground rules for life in the home. NSP he reminds his fellow inmates is crucial. No Self Pity. And two questions must never be asked. How are you feeling? What are your plans for today? Wilfred keeping up appearances in his cravat and goatee beard is determined to make the best of the situation and his on-going sexual banter with Cecily (the wonderful Wendi Peters) provide some of the evenings best moments. Wendi Peters gives a comic masterclass as Cecily. Unsteady on high heels with bandy legs like a Dick Emery “oh you are awful but I like you” impersonation, she is superb. Reg (Jeff Rawle) is intense and angst-ridden. To make matters worse his ex-wife Jean (Sue Holderness) is about to join them as an inmate. Jean has fallen the furthest of the four as she was a big star but is now penniless and living on charity. How will these four get on? What will they do all day? What is there to look forward to? Or is everything poisoned as Jean believes? These are some of the questions explored in Quartet, written by Ronald Harwood (The Dresser, The Pianist ) and directed by Peter Rowe.
Much of the comedy is generated by the contrast between the form and the content. So far example these four actors all speak with cut glass RP accents yet they say the most outrageous things. As when Wilfred tells Cecily, who can’t hear him as she has her headphones on, I think you’ve got the best tits I’ve ever seen. Or when in the middle of apostrophising the beauty of art Reg runs to the window and calls the housemaid a bitch, a cow and whore. Why? Because she won’t give him marmalade for breakfast. Or again when Jean is explaining why she can’t sing anymore the alarm for lunch sounds, Reg, Wilfred and Cecily run from the room because as Reg explains to her otherwise all the mash potato will be gone.
Ronnie Harwood was Donald Wolfit’s dresser. This life experience is evident in his play The Dresser and in Quartet. All the worlds a stage and all the men and women merely players. Well, Quartet shows the truth of that wonderfully. What brings these four in many ways broken people back to life is preparing for and performing the finale to the birthday concert to Giuseppe Verdi (or as Cecily calls him Jo Green) to be performed on his anniversary on the 10th October. As they help each other choose, repair and get into costumes they come together in friendship and mutual aid to find meaning and purpose. It’s a marvellous demonstration of the power of art to sustain and enhance life. How they put on the concert and overcome the limitations of their ageing bodies is something you will have to buy a ticket to experience. But rest assured it is one of the great moments in contemporary theatre. A joy.
Review by John O’Brien
Four ageing opera singers reside in a magnificent retirement home in Kent. Soon, old rivalries resurface, secrets are revealed and chaos unfolds, A celebration of the twilight years and the hilarity of growing old disgracefully!
Mark Goucher & David Ian present a Cheltenham Everyman Theatre production.
Paul Nicholas (Real Marigold Hotel, EastEnders, Just Good Friends), Wendi Peters (Coronation Street), Sue Holderness (Only Fools and Horses, The Green Green Grass) and Jeff Rawle (Harry Potter, Drop The Dead Donkey), star in a brand-new revival of the bitter-sweet comedy Quartet.
Monday 9th to Saturday 14th April 2018