Ewhurst Players “Quartet”
Ewhurst Village Hall, 19th May, 2017
Ronald Harwood’s beautifully observed study of former professional opera singers from the Carla Rosa company now in residence at Beecham House retirement home for musicians in rural Kent, is one of the finest vehicles for mature players to showcase their acting talents. Opening on a hot June late morning in a splendid set of a music room with posh furnishings and a patio leading to the gardens with birdsong and pictures of composers on the walls.
Wendy Davies as Cissie perfectly captured the essential amiable, but forgetful early stage dementia of Cissie, who for reasons unknown thought everyone had just returned from Karachi. Wearing headphones she sat listening to “Rigoletto” oblivious to all else, especially the saucy talk from Wilf. A highly experienced actress is Wendy who never disappoints in any role.
In stark contrast George Yates played Reggie with truthful intensity. Reggie craved order and routine and had barked at the unfortunate matron who substituted apricot jam for his usual breakfast marmalade. A nicely observed portrayal of a decent but reserved man putting up with he pitfalls of old age, except when confronted by the arrival of his ex-wife, with whom he eventually remade a sort of bond. A great role to play and apart from one or two stumbles done supremely well.
As different as chalk from cheese was the sex-mad Wilf all eager to talk dirty to the hard of hearing Cissie. Peter Bradley referred to the prostate, piles, cataracts, teeth falling out and spoke in coarse terms of how he hated the ageing process. Nevertheless, an engaging character was Wilf, dovetailing perfectly with the more refined Reggie. Peter relished playing this role, and how it showed! By comparison with what is all too common in modern theatre and in stand-up comedy routines Wilf’s language was relatively mild, but his obvious enjoyment of “talking dirty” made it seem at least mildly shocking and all the more enjoyable for that.
The imminent arrival of Reggie’s hated ex-wife Jean really put the cat among the pigeons and when, in the form of Patsy Mortimore, she finally arrived all “Grande Dame” and diva-like bemoaning her “fate” of having to live among the lesser lights, the story began to take a more interesting shape. Reggie could not bear to be in the same room with her and, when at last, they had meaningful conversation, old resentments quickly came to the fore.
Cissie, having been the butt of Jean’s cutting and insensitive comments about excess weight then reminded Jean that Verdi translates as Joseph Green. Jean of course was fully aware of this but dotty Cissie had probably already mentioned this fact a many times, we may assume. Jean, walking with a stick was bemoaning awaiting her new hip operation. Jean actually moaned a great deal about many things and Patsy really got inside her character The question arose as to the proposed annual performance of the quartet from Rigoletto to mark the anniversary of Verdi’s birth on October 10th, just over three months away.
The luncheon gong sounded, and Wilf announced “lunch” and on their return and following scene the very next morning Jean was still being adamant that she would not sing Gilda as she had lost her singing voice after having a child in her 30s. She was refusing all entreaties, terrified of people saying and thinking she was way past her pomp. Patsy played this strong willed yet highly vulnerable character with consummate skill.
Scene two was set next morning and all had changed costumes. Jean was still adamant in her refusal to play Gilda.
Now, in Act Two some three weeks later in early morning, with a slightly rearranged set (sofa moved against the wall and a rail of costumes upstage, with a trunk of Rigoletto costumes in front of this), all appeared in their night attire except the suited Reggie. The men’s and women’s dressing rooms were either side of the rail. Jean, having finally been persuaded to sing Gilda, they were all preparing themselves to practice the quartet. Very interesting and revealing dialogue took place between the two men and two women, in their respective dressing rooms with prominent make up mirrors either side of the rail, with effective use of the fourth wall. Reggie was resplendent in Rigoletto’s red and green tights (his costume was provided by a company in Manchester – Woodland Community Players)
The final scene took place front of cloth with the four “singing” their hearts out to a recording of “Bella figlia dell’amore”, well marshalled by Musical Director Bobby Swanson (played from the floor by Simon Fraser) ending to rapturous and well deserved applause. Some extremely impressive miming, one might have thought they were all actually singing this beautiful quartet. Simon also played operatic highlights before the performance and during the interval, unobtrusively.
The stage set was an impressive one all in all and was built by Chris Dews aided on painting / decorating by Rachael Edmondson, Victoria Helstrip, Jeannie Metcalf and Nicki Payne.
Effective lighting was provided by Carl Osborne and Sound was well handled by Bill Pilcher.
Anne Lyth did sterling work on wardrobe which was well fitted and apt. The rail of costumes was colourful and one could quite believe they were those of ex-professional opera singers.
Jean Metcalf gave just two prompts on the night I attended in a very wordy play. The diction throughout was clear and the characters highly believable. Ewhurst Players were fortunate to be able to call upon all the mature and experienced players of this standard, from which I am sure that any watching less experienced members would have gained much in studying timing, pauses and body language.
Meg Bray, the play’s director, should feel highly satisfied with the way her characters played their parts and of the warmth, emotion and interplay between her actors. She was faithful to the spirit of Harwood’s masterpiece. A clear success for Meg!
With the customary impressive front of house team again providing warm hospitality and a tasty meal I have to conclude that Ewhurst Players fully maintained, even enhanced their already impressive reputation as a rare theatrical jewel in deepest Surrey.
Jon Fox – NODA District 19