RONALD Harwood’s 1999 play Quartet took on a new lease of life when Dustin Hoffman directed a film based on the play in 2012.
Now back on the stage, the play completes a tour at Bath Theatre Royal. until 21st April. Set in the panelled music room of a large country house in Kent, it’s the story of four elderly opera singers, colleagues and rivals and lovers in their early days, brought together by financial fate in a retirement home for artistes.
Cissy Robson, the mezzo whose reputation for a predilection for a bit of stagehand rough lasted longer than her voice, is busy, good hearted and on the early edges of dementia.
Wilfred Bond is the sex obsessed baritone whose 36 year marriage gave the lie to his bragging.
And sex is never mentioned by Reggie Paget, a tenor who never quite achieved the helden status of his dreams.
Into this contented trio comes Jean Horton, once a prima donna, and once the wife of Reggie, now in pain and reduced circumstances. And the arrival is not easy or welcome.
As the programme notes point out, the advances in medical science mean that more of us are living longer than ever, and Harwood brilliantly captures the humour and pathos of the toddle and lurch towards the grave.
It would be too easy to play this quartet for easy laughs and caricature, but this wonderful cast avoids the temptation under the sensitive direction of Peter Rowe.
It is stagy – each character has a big speech revealing an unsuspected motivation.
But Wendi Peters as the comical Cissy, Paul Nicholas as the flirtatious Wilfred, Jeff Rawle as the uptight Reggie and Sue Holderness as the brittle Jean carry it off with dignity and aplomb.
The finale is the triumph it should be, and the curtain accomplished in character, making each of these entirely recognisable people an indelible memory.