Ageing seems to be all about loss: physical ability, looks, and sharpness-of-mind’ and for those that have known the adoration of ‘the public’, they also lose their talent, their identity and their value. Written by Ronald Harwood (The Dresser, The Pianist), Quartet, directed by Andrea Moor opened the Queensland Theatre Company’s (QTC) 2016 season to explore the post-life life of four renowned opera singers as they negotiate the throws of existence forgotten in a retirement home for artists.
Cecily (Christine Amor), Wilfred (Trevor Stuart) and Reginald (Andrew McFarlane) enjoy a tranquil corner of the garden that they have made their own, a place to gather and commune with each other and their creative spirit; Reginald, perhaps the most surprised about their fate, studies his art history and bemoans the state of the marmalade at breakfast, while Cecily happily listens to old recordings of their quartet and warmly welcomes everyone back from Karachi. Wilfred, the stereotypical dirty old man, incessantly makes sexual advances at Cecily without her even realizing it, absorbed as she is with her headphones. On the surface they seem relatively normal but we soon witness the little cracks in the veneer that suggest the onset of dementia in all its various forms. These ‘cracks’ provide some hearty laughs; McFarlane’s sudden marmalade outburst giving everyone a slight moment of incontinence. With the addition of a new arrival and the fourth member of the quartet, the stoic and quietly suffering Jean (also an ex-wife of Reginald’s) the tranquility of the group and their plans for the upcoming celebration of Verdi’s birthday is shaken-up, especially when Jean forces them to face reality and question their ability to actually perform again.
There’s a lot of conflict in the script between emotions; at times it felt like a drama trying to burst from the clutches of a comedy but in a way that is exactly what is happening as the simmering tension of the operatic characters from Verdi’s masterpiece rattle the foundations of the quartet. The key is that they are preparing to perform Rigoletto, believed to be one of Verdi’s finest operas. Originally titled The Curse, the curse (perhaps in this case, the curse of age, and the curse of regret) is placed on the Duke (Reginald) and court jester Rigoletto (Wilfred) and Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda (Jean). Stuart’s Wilfred/Rigoletto was wonderfully played despite some corny old lines (Stuart has an easy and natural style). In the second act he literally becomes the sad clown as he dresses in the hunchbacked court jester costume all the while continuing his attempts to get to the bottom of what happened between Reginald and Jean and their failed and highly secret marriage all those years ago. Stuart’s dressing in the jester outfit is so ridiculous it has the audience in fits of hysterics almost drowning out his dialogue. There is perhaps an invisible tie here between the underestimated fool and misunderstood diva; both accused of chilled shallowness where refined Reginald’s Dukish tantrums are left unchallenged. Christine Amor’s big-hearted and child-like Cecily was familiar and adorable and innocently unaware of what transpired between the three but easy follows suit in the harsh judgment of Jean’s demeanor. Jean often pleads with the troupe not to be mean to her but her words fall on deaf ears ever judged by her cover.
A note must be made here of Bruce McKinvan’s set design; an opulent Art Nouveau inspired room lurked during the first act, teasing like the fog of an ungraspable memory or regret behind a simply draped sheer curtain painted with a country scene. The vibrant music room is revealed for the second act, the veil being lifted from the dream of a past life as the Quartet busy themselves with preparation and recollection – an utterly stunning way to set the mood from the outset.
In the final act of Rigoletto, Gilda – still in love with the Duke despite his philandering (he seduces Maddalena (played by Cecily)) – sacrifices herself to the Duke assassin thus saving his life by giving her own.
When all is said and done, there is no money and no fame only the unquenchable desire for just one more taste of that spotlight and this ephemeral moment is beautifully captured when the four find themselves basking in the heavenly glow of beaming stage lights and for just that moment they collectively remember what it feels like to be loved.
After closing in Brisbane, Quartet is on the road, taking the show to venues throughout Queensland during February and March.
Season Tour Dates
25 February | Toowoomba: Empire Theatre
27 February | Kawana Lake Kawana Community Centre
1 March | Rockhampton: Pilbeam Theatre
4 March | Mackay: Mackay Entertainment and Convention Centre
8 – 9 March | Cairns: Centre of Contemporary Arts
12 March | Townsville: Townsville Civic Theatre
16 March | Gladstone: Gladstone Entertainment Centre
19 March | Ipswich: Ipswich Civic Centre
22 – 23 March | Bundall: The Arts Centre Gold Coast