Review: Quartet

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Can one mix art with performance? Theatre on the Bay did just that in a very literal sense on Tuesday
night. The setting was a lantern-lit car park filled with a company of astute theatre goers, actors,
patrons and members of the Theatre on the Bay society.

Our wine glasses shimmered as the sun set behind us, and just as darkness fell a sculpture
commissioned by Pieter Toerien was unveiled. A source of much speculation amongst Cape Town’s
theatre-goers recently, the sculpture was revealed to be an actor taking his final bow, showing his
appreciation to the audience by thanking them for joining him on the journey of his performance. Its
rough, textured finish created shadows which gave a feeling of movement and continuity, as if at any
moment he might straighten up, step down from his pedestal and join the throngs heading into the
Theatre on the Bay for the opening night of Sir Ronald Howard’s play, Quartet.

A prolific writer, Sir Ronald is best known for his Oscar-winning script for The Pianist and the recent
Meryl Streep hit, Being Julia. Quartet is an altogether gentler play, taking place in the musical room
of a retirement home, where Cissy (Wanda Ventham), Reginald (Gary Raymond) and Wilfred (John
Fraser) are cared for. The three have more than a residence in common, all just happening to be
retired Opera singers, who are asked to sing at a gala concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday. But, this
being a comedy, the arrival of Jean (Delena Kidd) – who retired under mysterious circumstances at
the height of her stardom – throws a major spanner in the works.

I sat back in my seat gazing up at actors I can only describe as inspirational. Under spot-on direction
from Richard Digby Day, these four West End stars are utterly absorbing as they negotiate the
various speed bumps of growing old. The potential for age-gags is fully exploited. If it isn’t Wilfred
who continuously fantasises – out loud – about sex, it is Cissy showing increasing signs of dementia or
Reginald throwing a tantrum about not being given marmalade at breakfast. Cataracts, pace makers,
and artificial hips are all cause for scrutiny and hilarity as the cast grows collectively more insane.

Through the tear-jerking laughter the play explores the disillusionment of old age. But at the same
time it delivers a notion of hope and relief in knowing that it happens to us all, that we are not alone.
In fact it should be a time to forget all the failures and embrace the successes. To appreciate and
celebrate the relationships we have formed with the people in our life. Whether it be a porridge-
serving matron or a topless young man who mows the lawn each week, there is enjoyment to be
found in the people who surround us. The play’s message – as with all good comedy drama – is to
laugh at ourselves more, and to take life less seriously.

Being one of the youngest audience members present, I laughed less with recognition than some of
my fellow audience members but I laughed wholeheartedly nonetheless. Quartet can be enjoyed by
all, ringing bells of truth about life to all who listen.

This is a great night out with a star studded cast of acclaimed actors. It’s a laugh and a message,
presented with a flawlessly light touch. Take a bow.

by Caro Malherbe

Quartet runs at Theatre on the Bay until 7 April 2012

If you liked this review, read our review of Evita at Theatre on the Bay.


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