Tag Archives: Paul Nicholas

Quartet

reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 3 April

“If only youth knew, if only age could…” It’s as true in 2018 as 500 years ago. In many ways it sums up Peter Rowe’s touring production of Ronald Harwood’s “Quartet”, the story of four once-famous opera singers living their last years (until shunted off into specialist care) in a retirement home for retired musicians.

Three are reasonably long-term residents. Reginald Paget (Jeff Rawle) is an embittered tenor, who once itched to sing Wagner but whose career confined him to the 19th century Italian repertoire. Baritone Wilfred Bond (Paul Nicholas had been viewed as a plausible successor-rival to Gobbi.

Mezzo-soprano Cecily Robson – “Cissie” – played by Wendi Peters teeters on the brink of Alzheimer’s, much to the concern of the two men who recognise that their NSP motto (no self-pity) cannot stretch to the home’s requirement that residents must basically be able to lead independent lives.

They squabble, Bond fantasises about sexual adventures past but not present or future and look forward to the performance all are required to give on 10 October to celebrate Verdi’s birthday. Then new resident Jean Horton (Sue Holderness) arrives. She was a much-lauded soprano who quit at what seemed to be the height of her powers – and fame.

Rowe’s direction paints all this with a broad brush which at times has the peculiar effect of distancing the four characters from our understanding, and so our sympathies. Rawle’s real pain at now being forced to rub shoulders on a daily basis with his ex-wife does come over clearly but some of the humour still seems forced rather than natural.

Peters dodders amusingly enough as Cissie while Holderness radiates the crumbling arrogance of the diva clinging onto past glories. Nicholas is successful in showing us a performer able to step occasionally outside the personality he once inhabited to accept the realities of what is now and (inevitably) will have to be.

There’s an excellent set by Phil R Daniels and Charles Cusick-Smith which gives the impression that the comforts afforded by the home are superficial rather than actual. The costumes donned by the quartet for the Verdi have an air of something salvaged from one of those cash-strapped touring companies I remember from the 1950s.

Broad brush-strokes may account for the awkwardness of the karaoke-style performance of the Rigoletto quartet with which the play ends. I don’t recall audience titters from either the 1999 London première or the 2010 tour which in Rowe’s production swamp the actual music. But memory is a fallible thing, especially as one grows older.

Four star rating.

Quartet runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre as part of a national tour until 7 April with matinées on 5 and 7 April.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2018

Dick Whittington and His Cat

(reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 6 December)

Tradition – a principal boy, the story set firmly in 1375, a slop scene – meets innovation in this version by Al Morley and Matt Crosby, directed by Carole Todd and choreographed by Kevan Allen. It has a strong cast with Holly Easterbrook as a dashing and boyish Dick and Paul Nicholas as a dominating King Rat, with wider than mere mayoral ambitions.

Our harassed merchant plagued with rats is Robert Duncan as Alderman Fitzwarren. Rhiannon Porter plays his daughter Alice; it is her birthday present from her father of a necklace which is stolen from his safe. Crosby has written a starring part for himself as Sarah and his son Idlle Jack (Robert Rees) lives up to his name by collapsing every time the word “work” is mentioned.

That slop scene mentioned above is in the ship’s galley, tilting ferociously in the storm – one could feel a trifle seasick watching it!. Act One ends with a spectacular white, gold and silver production number; no set designer is credited, but Sue Simmerling’s costumes and Mike Robertson’s lighting combine to fine effect.

King Rat’s main opponent is of course Fairy Bowbells (Dawn Hope). Hope’s slinky, glittering dress mirrors her brisk personality; this is a street-wise guardian for London. That also goes for Daniel Cummins as Tommy the Car. Here we have a moggie that talks as well, as miaous – not always effectively be it said. Catman indeed!

The adult ensemble do full justice to Allen’s choreography, supplemented by a well-rehearsed troupe of panto babes; they make excellent ratlings as well as young Londoners with perhaps just a hint of Fagin’s gang about their activities. Costumes for the dance numbers make a strong impact, so there’s plenty for the senior members of the audience to enjoy as well as their juniors.

Dick Whittington and His Cat runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 8 January. Check the theatre website (cambridgeartstheatre.com) for performance times.

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Filed under Pantomimes & other seasonal shows, Reviews 2016