★★☆☆☆  | Quartet – National Tour

Cecily, Wilfred and Reggie are three ageing opera singers, happily spending their twilight years in a retirement home for ageing artists, but their days reminiscing on their time in the spotlight are abruptly interrupted by the sudden and unexpected arrival of Jean, a former collaborator, a fading star and the ex-wife of Reggie. With an opportunity to reform the quartet for one final performance at the home’s annual gala, will old rivalries, old feelings and old friendships stand in the way of their last performance?

Paul Nicholas’ stands out from the cast with a confident and rather polished performance as the somewhat frisky Wilfred, a character simultaneously brimming with bravado and with insecurities; whilst Sue Holderness plays the somewhat crestfallen soprano, Jean, with an air of believability. Jeff Rawle’s passive to aggressive character transformations are well handled, and Wendi Peters gives a sly wink and a knowing nod to the audience with her portrayal of the slightly eccentric Cecily which stays on the right side of caricature.

Production wise, the play is set in the confines of a music room at the retirement home; with the wooden panelled walls encasing the sturdy and detailed box-set; which was accompanied by a lighting and sound design which were befitting and perfectly functional. The narrative is based around whether the four singers will perform together, but delve a little deeper and you will find themes of both holding on to, and letting go of, the past; and about moving on from past mistakes.

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This is a very gentile and steady play, with little more to offer its audience than some competent performances and a wordy, and at times, wandering script. Given the setting and the characters, there is little in the way of visual stimulation or on stage movement to engage the audience, and therefore the writing is left to carry the piece; which it does with varying degrees of success. A few moments of comedy were set against some rather dry passages in the script, and the melancholy themes of growing old and facing your own mortality were intermingled with some quick-witted put-downs and comedic one-liners; alongside some subtle and not so subtle humour.

Quartet is a bittersweet play which is not for everyone. It’s slowly paced and rather sedate, and may well reward the patient audience member, but requires a sharp focus on the script rather than a reliance on the visuals.

Quartet is currently on national tour