Nick Le Mesurier reviews Quartet by Ronald Harwood at the Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford
There can be a kind of glory in old age, though it is often hard won and somewhat faded. The characters in Quartet have all survived, somehow. Once they were centre stage, now they are waiting out their days by living on charity in a home for retired opera singers.
God knows what kind of tantrums must befall the breakfast table. We only get a hint of them once or twice from Reggie (Graham Tyrer) as he obscenely berates a nurse offstage for not giving him marmalade. Otherwise this group of divas are strangely muted, their dementias more kind than cruel.
The story hinges on the arrival of Jean, played with waspish intelligence by Margot Mcleary. Jean was once a superstar of the operatic stage who had a brief unhappy marriage to Reggie. Her arrival forces them all to confront truths they thought were safely tucked away. Old dramas are resurrected; old scores within themselves are settled.
Cast and crew all know their art well. Juliet Grundy is sexy and sweet as Cecily, forever chased by randy old soul Wilfred (Kevin Hand). They are looked on with fussy disapproval by Reggie, who emerges as the true hero of the play by organising their swansong, a performance of the Quartet from Rigoletto.
Directed by Estelle Hand, Quartet is one of those plays that leave a warm glow of relief in the hearts of its audience. Its humour is warm; it soothes rather than stirs. These heroes have fallen, as must we all, but they have done so with grace. Together they find the strength to take one final glorious bow.
* Quartet runs until Saturday September 30. Call 01789 403416 to book.