DUSTIN Hoffman made his directorial debut at the age of 73 with a film version of Ronald Harwood’s 1999 play Quartet, and it has been one of the surprise hits of this year – as well as raising the hackles of the thespian community as Hoffman totally ignored the fact that it had started life on stage.
Last week Churchill Productions returned to the play at the Tivoli in Wimborne, once again demonstrating what an excellent and versatile company they are.
The play is much less sentimental than the (very enjoyable) film, taking a harder look at the issues Harwood raises, and it’s difficult to imagine a better production than at Wimborne last week. The original London production, with its big name stars including Donald Sinden, was panned by the critics.
The stage version is a four hander, set in the music room where the quartet of the title – Cissy the mezzo, Wilfred the baritone, Reggie the tenor and his former wife, the diva Jean – find themselves in a retirement home for musicians, and prepare for the annual Verdi anniversary concert.
Saturday’s matinee audience at the Tivoli was largely made up of people very close to retirement home life, and so perhaps the reality of the situation on stage was the more poignant.
Revelling in their former glories on stage at Covent Garden and the opera houses of the world, the four take very varied views of their lives at the home for retired musicians. Harwood’s script brilliantly captures the momentary lapses into inexplicable obsession, the forgetfulness, the fear and the braggadocio.
Justin Ellery was Wilfred, thinking about sex in every waking moment. Peter Watson was the pompous and wounded Reggie, and Jan Wylde the apparently arrogant Jean, a woman who had hidden the reality of her loss of voice for decades and still lived on the memory of her glorious ovations.
Perhaps the standout performance was by Barbara Arnold as Cissy, the furthest into dementia but retaining the warmth and optimism that had characterised her entire career, with its predilection for a bit of rough from the stage crew and her feeling of unworthiness for anything more. Her comic timing was exquisite.
As always, the Churchill show was raising funds for charity, this time the Dorset-based Child of Hope in Uganda.