‘Quartet’ is a hilarious and poignant play by renowned British playwright, Sir Ronald ‘Ron’ Harwood. The play opened in London’s West End in 1999 and ran for an incredible 4 months. Then in 2000, the play opened in Helsinki, becoming the most popular play in Finnish theatres of the decade, every show being sold out for years.
This Kalamunda Dramatic Society’s two and a half hour performance starts at 8.00 pm at the Kalamunda Theatre, Barber Street, Kalamunda – be warned the car park has disappeared, being replaced by a tasteless concrete monolith. This Sandra Sando production can be seen on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings until 5th December.
The time is early October 1993, the one hundred and eightieth anniversary of Verdi’s birth. The scene is a sitting room / music room in Beecham House, a retirement home set up for elderly, famous musicians and singers by Sir Thomas Beecham.
The carpeted room has pale green and peach walls. With a fine collection of props (Jason Millman), it looks the genuine article. There are posters of famous classical concerts on the walls. The furniture comprises a writing desk and a solid oak sideboard, with several comfortable chairs and a settee. Various musical instruments are lying around.
The apron of the stage represents a paved veranda garden outside the music room’s French doors. Set design Rose Weighell and Jan Taylor.
The lighting design was quite simple, but operated smoothly by Stephen Marr and James Glasson. Julie Hickling and Alexis Marr’s sound design was clever with subtle low-level bird sounds from the auditorium speakers – placing the audience in the garden.
Three aging members of a world famous operatic quartet have fallen on hard times and, thanks to charity support, now live at Beecham House.
Despondent baritone, Reg (Kim Taylor) sits fuming at Matron’s (Lesley Broughton) control on his eating habits – especially breakfast. He consoles himself by silently doing a jigsaw. Across the room, dippy but loveable soprano, Cissy (Kerry Goode) – who was a bit of a girl in her time – sits with her eyes closed, listening to her CD player unaware that the wickedly funny larrikin, Wilf (Douglas Sutherland-Bruce) lusts after her body. In fact, the tenor of the group, Wilf hungers after every woman. However, Cissy much prefers lithe young men like Nobby (Jason Millman) the gardener. Wilf seems to receive most affection and attention from Bobby Swanson (Les Marshall), still struggling after 60 years to come out of the closet.
Cissy returns from a wander around the home, searching for the latest gossip. She has just learnt that there is a new inmate in the house, non-other than the fourth member of their quartet, feisty Jean (Anita Bound). Jean was the contralto star of their group, but she is now a broken and miserable woman.
Cissy’s surprise news brings mixed feelings to the group, Wilf is happy but Reg is horrified, because Jean was his only wife and love. 50 years later, he still has trouble coping with their breakup. Perhaps if they join in the retirement home’s celebration, by reforming their quartet and singing together, their ‘good old days’ may return.
As the promotional material said, ‘this is a script that could be an inert embarrassment if performed by less accomplished players’, how very true. The script demands, humour, tragedy, sadness, even a little lust – and so the list goes on – but with the magnificent cast breathing life into every second, the play comes alive. You don’t have to be old to appreciate the predicament of the inmates. Lonely and frustrated they fight in their own way with their aging bodies, whilst determined to have fun and attempt to regain their much admired youth.
The director is Terry Hackett, one of WA’s most competent leaders; she has been recognised numerous times in the Finley Awards. Terry has chosen an outstanding cast, whose names also appear frequently in the nomination and winners’ section of the awards.
KADS is a small theatre, around 70 seats, but Terry has employed every inch of the stage and turned the auditorium into ‘a busy garden’, this made the whole action much more exciting. Clever skilling.
Poor Douglas lost a very good friend on the morning of the show, but like the true trouper that he was on the stage, with a performance that was both hilarious and flawless. His heartfelt delivery of the foibles of old age had many audience members nodding sympathetically.
Kerry Goode was given the bubbly, excitable part of Cissy. One minute, as the Alzheimer’s took over, she was hugging her friends on their arrival home, when most had not even left the room; then totally confused, she would fall asleep, drugged, in the chair. Kerry excelled in the last scene.
Anita Bound had a complex part, upset at the quartet’s proposed reunion, whilst optimistically trying in her stubborn way to unite with her ex-husband. Anita had passages of fast moving dialogue, and next she would be struggling with her aging body, trying in her mind to find some logic. A very moving performance, with a superb final act.
Kim Taylor, as the shunned husband, had hilarious, well-timed, wild outbursts – mainly at Matron – and yet still he manged to show his deep love for his long lost wife. In one scene Kim had to give a bold and assured monologue, before crumbling back to his usual withdrawn state.
This stage play seemed far funnier and possibly bawdier than the film, whether the scripts were different or was it the enormous skills of the director and her outstanding cast? The pace, chemistry, comedy delivery and sad passages were all performed with colossal skill.
I suspect there will be even more Finley Award nominations from this production.