Quartet (Queensland Theatre Company)
QPAC, The Playhouse
January 30 – February 23
When, having fallen on hard times, retired opera singers Reggie, Cecily and Wilfred, find themselves living in a retirement home, they endure repetitious days highlighted by mealtimes and anticipation of the upcoming annual concert to mark composer Verdi’s birthday. When celebrated soprano and Reggie’s ex-wife Jean arrives, having lost everything, the serenity is shattered as the now-foursome struggle to put aside grudges and re-team for one more show-stopping finale.
With the aide of some impressive costumes, performers easily establish their distinct sense of selves, with varying degrees of acceptance of their gradual physical and mental decline. Free-spirited and excitable Cecily (Christine Amor) likes to sit happily listening to music on her headphones, however, is easily confused and scatty in her memory. Now that he’s older, Wilfred (Trevor Stuart) is obsessed with sex, delighting in dirty talk to the innocent Cecily. His extensive list of all things bad about ageing (from prostate problems to piles) provides much of the play’s humour and Stuart plays him to saucy perfection.
Andrew McFarlane, meanwhile, is ever the gentlemen, aside from when ranting about his want of marmalade for breakfast or passively-aggressively responding to the arrival of his ex-wife Jean (Kate Wilson), a stylish but sharp-tongued and tactless woman. And director Andrea Moor achieves a fine balance in not allowing any one of them to dominate the story.
In addition to its humour, the play is filled with charmingly sensitive moments. Indeed, its key message and positive stance on ageing and the need to value rather than wish away each day is one to be cherished, as the characters don’t regret so much as lament about life rushing you into old age, despite the youthful feelings within. It also serves as a celebration of the artistry of artists and offers opportunity for four talented and experienced older actors to show their stuff on the stunning stage. And it is entirely appropriate that the production is dedicated to QTC family member Carol Burns and the legacy that her passing leaves within Queensland’s theatrical community.
At one point within the work, after some deliberation, Reginald, decides that “art is meaningless if it doesn’t make you feel.” Ronald Harwood’s “Quartet” is a poignant play that will make you feel: humour, happiness, sadness and hope. Its tender take on the frustrations and fears of growing old is emotionally satisfying and ultimately uplifting, making it likely to strike a chord with many audience members, both during its Brisbane season and when it tours regionally.