Tag Archives: Wendi Peters

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

The Sleeping Beauty

(reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 4 December 2015)

There are a number of commercial producers of pantomimes; not all of them have the production values of Eastbourne-based Chris Jordan. This year sees The Sleeping Beauty trapped by the vengeful Carabosse in Stevenage. The sets and costumes (Shelley Claridge) are colourful and there’s some excellent choreography by Philip Joel.

We begin with Fairy Fortywinks (Nicola Bryan) confronting the much more powerful Carabosse (Wendi Peters), an immortal with grievances. Lots of them.King Clarence (Paul Bentley) is missing his late wife and seeking a suitable prince to marry his daughter Belle (Daniella Piper). She doesn’t take kindly to being cosseted either by her father or by Nellie Night Nurse ((Paul Laidlaw).

Laidlaw is an experienced Dame, of the cuddly rather than abrasive variety. Son Chester (Aidan O’Neill) is the Court Jester and, of course, secretly in love with Belle. That doesn’t make Prince Valiant (Gregor Stewart)’s task any easier as he goes in search of a suitable bride. The “Love me” duet is an attractive number.

Carabosse has a team of helpers, and very nasty they are too. There’s an attractive duet for Belle and Valiant before the spectacular final to the first act. In Act Two we have Nellie’s famous strip-tease as well as a time machine (not a million miles from Dr Who’s police-box) to take everyone forward a hundred years.

The Sleeping Beauty runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 24 January.

There’s a dragon in the ghost scene, which makes a nice change, and at least one spectacular exit through the orchestra pit – James Cleeve’s domain. Innovations are carefully blended with the expected traditional – such as the kitchen scene. And Fairy Fortywinks may keep on dropping off at crucial moments – but she has a winning way with her trumpet.

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Filed under Pantomimes & seasonal shows, Reviews 2015