When we are young, we believe that old age is something that happens to other people, erroneously assuming that we ourselves will remain the same for ever. Eventually, of course, we realise that there is no escape from the ageing process, and I speak from experience when I say that it’s a hard fact to deal with. For a performer who has spent his or her life being adored by many, the trauma must be even greater – and it is this that is at the core of Ronald Harwood’s play, set in a home for retired singers and musicians.
Many people will know Quartet from the 2012 film, starring Maggie Smith, Pauline Collins, Tom Courtenay and Billy Connolly, and will no doubt remember that there were a great many ancillary characters; the stage version has just the four actors, so for each one of them their performance must be a real tour de force if they are to keep the audience’s attention.
Before attending this production, I looked up the cast list online and noted that the names were four of KCA’s finest. I was immediately reassured that I was in for a good evening, and despite the minor distraction of an onstage picture desperate to escape its frame and the slightly more major one of a small group of the audience seemingly having brought a picnic with them, I was totally engrossed in the heart-warming story that unfolded.
In fact, it was difficult to believe that this was just a story and not for real, so genuine did the rapport seem to be between the characters, and the moments when they revealed previously hidden facets of themselves were incredibly moving in every case. Jane Wright’s warm, loving Cecily, rushing headlong into dementia, David Wickham’s intensely private Reginald, Mick Wright’s ‘Jack the lad’ Wilfred and Helen Johns’ ‘grand dame’ Jean were all beautifully characterised and a joy to watch.
Director Annie Robertson did a fine job of bringing out both the humour and the pathos of the play, and the pace was such that every line came over loud and clear. I laughed out loud a lot, not least at the mention of one unseen character whose size made her rather more suitable to play Falstaff than the consumptive Violetta in La Traviata, yet at other times I felt close to tears. If a production can move people in such a way then, in my book, it has done its job.
There are further performances at 7.30 on 22-24 March.