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Quartet review at Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham – ‘strongly performed’

Paul Nicholas, Wendi Peters, Sue Holderness and Jeff Rawle in Quartet at Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham. Photo: Antony Thompson Paul Nicholas, Wendi Peters, Sue Holderness and Jeff Rawle in Quartet at Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham. Photo: Antony Thompson
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Mark Goucher, who is bedding in as the new Chief Executive at Cheltenham Everyman, has launched his strategy to make the theatre a touring production powerhouse with Ronald Harwood`s bittersweet journey into thespian nostalgia.

In order to do this he has teamed with international producer David Ian for a strongly cast – but, it must also be said, decidedly safe – look at growing old and the nature of art.

Harwood is renowned for his backstage plays and Quartet is set in a country house retirement home for opera singers – fertile territory for theatrical bitching.

Three of the residents – scatty mezzo Cecily slowly drifting into dementia (played by Wendi Peters), rascally but insecure baritone Wilfred (Paul Nicholas) and fastidious but occasionally volatile tenor Reggie (Jeff Rawle) – are unexpectedly joined by celebrated soprano Jean (Sue Holderness), once disastrously married to Reg and still your archetype diva although now penniless.

The narrative, built around their bid to sing the famous quartet from Verdi`s Rigoletto for one last time, does tend to drift at times. It is used by director Peter Rowe to cast the spotlight unsparingly on the quirks of the ageing performers, spiced with a liberal helping of one-line comic recollections and put-downs. All four are played with a telling combination of operatic bravura and vulnerability, as they struggle to remain loyal to their motto NSP (no self-pity).

Their declining glory is matched by Phil R Daniels and Charles Cusick-Smith`s slightly faded music room set, and the lighting and sound team contribute powerfully to Harwood`s uplifting musical denouement.

Producer Mark Goucher on taking over Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre: ‘I’d heard a lot of this job was about unblocking toilets’

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A strongly-performed, if somewhat safe, staging of Ronald Harwood’s diverting view of actors the autumn of their lives