Review: Quartet at Cambridge Arts Theatre with a tour de force foursome

Quartet is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until April 7

Quartet is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until April 7 - Credit: Archant

The moment Paul Nicholas walked onto the stage on the first night of Quartet at Cambridge Arts Theatre, I thought how alluring he was, aged 73.

Which was exactly what I was meant to think because his is the character, Wilfred Bond, who, rather as a self-parody, makes constant references to the sex he wishes he was having, how he wishes he was having it and who he wishes he was having it with. With perfect charm, Nicholas carries much of the humour of the piece.

Ronald Harwood’s play, for four actors, is set in a classy home for retired performers.

Four opera singers, whose careers are over, try to keep up their spirits. Their rule is NSP: No Self Pity - but they can’t help it sometimes.

There is an annual concert to celebrate composer Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday and this year, they decide to sing the Quartet from Rigaletto.

The problem is that none of them can still sing. But then they think of a way to get round the problem.

Of course they all have baggage. They repeat themselves. One of them, Cecily Robson, (played with facial expressions that are a joy to see by the rubber faced Wendi Peters) thinks every time someone leaves the room, they have gone to Kharachi. When they reappear, she effusively welcomes them back. She spent her girlhood in India.

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Two of them, Reginald Paget (played with gusto by Jeff Rawle) and Jean Horton (the silken-voiced Sue Holderness) have been married - briefly, some four husbands ago on her part.

This is not an action-packed play. It’s about growing old and losing your talents, if not your faculties.

This stellar cast, with their beautiful movements and crystal clear diction, present it well because they are masters of their craft and a forceful foursome, but it’s poignant rather than exciting. It’s sad rather than surprising.

The world created feels real though. You believe in it and you can feel the chemistry between the four of them.

The audience was delighted with a straightforward play expertly performed on a great set, and the end, when by ingenious means they perform The Quartet, brought whoops and yells and made me want to go and see a performance of the opera Rigoletto.

Quartet is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, April 7.