By Ronald Harwood
Directed by Joe Harmston
Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Date: Friday 25th June 2010
It’s early days still for this new play by Ronald Harwood, and although there’s some excellent material here, there’s still scope for further polishing. The four hugely experienced actors were all fine – Timothy West in particular seemed to relish his part – though I felt a few funny lines missed their mark, whether through audience inattention or a slight mis-timing I wasn’t sure.
The set was quite impressive. To right and left were two imposing walls, with a door in the left one. At the back were some large arches with light coloured curtains or blinds in front of them. A baby grand was back left, some chairs and a table front right, with another chair front left. There was a sofa centre back in front of the curtains, and on either side just past the performing area were some hospital screens.
The story took place in a retirement home for musicians, and the four characters we meet are former opera singers, now in their twilight years and living in the home through necessity or, in one case, choice. All four know each other, though as it turns out not biblically, and all sang together in a production of Rigoletto, the recording of which has just been reissued.
One of the home’s traditions is to hold a gala performance on October 10th, Verdi’s birthday, to honour the great man. These four are asked to sing together, and the play is mainly about how they get over their ‘professional’ and personal difficulties to perform the famous quartet from Rigoletto as the gala’s star turn.
Along the way there’s a great deal of humour, mostly to do with the ageing process, and of course we come to know the characters very well as past secrets are uncovered and some kind of peace made with both the past and the present.
For the finale, the stage is cleared of all but the side walls, as the quartet take to the stage to demonstrate the talent of their earlier days. They do this by miming to the CD of their greatest hit, although I didn’t realise that was what was going on until the next day. I mean, I knew they were miming, I just didn’t register that it was a deliberate choice on the part of the characters at the time. In my defence, I will point out that Rigoletto is one of the few operas I have seen staged, it was a magnificent production – the set for the final act received a round of applause on its own – and it’s also one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had in the theatre (i.e. I cried a lot). So naturally the music brought back the memories, which brought back the sniffles…… So I was clearly in no state of mind to grasp what was going on, m’lud. The defence rests.
There was a bit of (planned) heckling from the audience just before the final song, and when the music ended, so did the play. While I think that there’s still more to come, we did enjoy ourselves, and I hope the tour does really well.
© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me