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DIRECTOR: Richard Digby Day with Delena Kidd
CAST: Gary Raymond, Delena Kidd, John Fraser and Wanda Ventham
VENUE: Theatre On The Bay in Camps Bay
UNTIL: April 7
An acronym that is held above anything else in Quartet is NSP: No Self-Pity. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was NSP: No Short Play.
It’s not how much time is spent watching old people sit around and talk about how horrible it is to be old, it’s that you feel yourself getting old while sitting in those chairs. And if you’re interested, it’s just more than two hours long with a 20-minute interval.
Don’t get me wrong, Quartet is not a bad play, it just would have fared better had it been succinct.
Three retired opera singers, two men and a woman, go about their daily lives in an old age home for people who had similar professions.
Reggie (Raymond), Cecily (Ventham) and Wilfred (Fraser) are good friends who are looking forward to singing again at the home’s annual celebration of Verdi’s birthday when there is a change in the norm.
Reggie’s ex-wife Jean (Kidd), an uppity woman whose reputation far precedes her, is about to move into the trio’s old age home – and into their lives. As is the nature of the stiff-as-cardboard and stuffy-as-a-carton-full-of-carbon-monoxide Reggie, he isn’t happy about her arrival.
There are records set straight through their trips down memory lane and, eventually, even with their voices not being what they used to be, the now four opera greats decide to sing as a quartet.
Sounds like a simple enough story, right? It takes place entirely in a space that looks like a recreation room with beautiful caramel leather couches, posters of famous operas of old in the background and a small piano on the side of the stage. This room is where Reggie can read his books that are full of verbose vocabulary. It’s also where Cecily mimes arias with her headphones on and the volume cranked up high because she never seems to be able to hear anything Wilfred says to her.
Now Wilfred, undoubtedly the comic relief of the play, is a hilarious man who balances the extremes the other characters offer. Fraser is hilarious, presents his character as good-natured and, in short, is a natural. The sexual innuendo – hanging heavily over the opening scene – is a mere bonus. He places his walking stick near the arm of the sofa and tells Reggie to rather read the Karma Sutra.
The English cast give us a taste of what it’s like to be past retirement age in Britain. They say things like “bloomers” and Raymond sounds like he’s straight out of a documentary voice-over gig. Think something to do with rockets launching, or world wars.
Quartet definitely has its moments of hilarity, but it’s just long. Keep that in mind.