Sat 3rd September to Sat 10th September
Three Singers and a Diva - who refuses to sing!
Our Autumn Season kicks off with this delightful comedy directed by Pete Bagley. The play has been a vehicle for some of our greatest veteran actors both on the stage and in the film version directed by Dustin Hoffman. In our production the quartet of retired singers is played by Jean Firth, Annie Gay, Alan Fenn and Matthew Salisbury making his debut performance at the Criterion.
Set in a retirement home for professional musicians, Harwood's play portrays the zest for life as well as the poignant regrets of the four main characters whose friendship enables them to triumph over personal difficulties as they prepare for the annual fund-raising concert.
Simon Sharpe's set has been expertly painted and decorated by the design team, and the 'Rigoletto' costumes are hanging in readiness on the rail.
There's a fuchsia on the terrace outside Beecham House, a retirement home for musicians. Nobody looks at it. Not even Reggie, the introspective yet occasionally explosive former opera singer who rushes out there every now and then to bawl abuse at the nurse who keeps leaving apricot jam rather than marmalade on his breakfast table. Reggie hates apricot jam but loves marmalade. Lime marmalade in particular. It's one of the few pleasures left in a life that has shrunk from strutting the stage at full volume to sitting quietly (for the most part) in a wing-backed armchair with an antimacassar - one of several nice touches in a cleverly designed set
And the fuchsia?
Well, nobody wants to face that at a time of life when the Final Curtain is about to come down for good. Members of this quartet have led fulfilled lives, professionally if not sexually. The final curtain hitherto has brought thunderous applause and standing ovations. None has had more of those, as she reminds us at regular intervals, than Reggie's former wife Jean who joins the original trio belatedly and reluctantly. Her money has gone and so has her fame. What's more, her hip is playing her up something rotten.
Her arrival brings some drama to the amicable relationship between the other three. Robert Harwood's script is peppered with witty one-liners and shrewd observations about the nature of ageing and, under Pete Bagley's astute direction, the cast deliver them with aplomb.
Criterion newcomer Matthew Salisbury cuts a splendidly Falstaffian figure as the be-whiskered Will, white of beard, grey of pony tail and crudely sexist of mouth. As so often with men who talk a lot about sex, he hasn't had any for a long time and is unlikely to get any in the near future.
Jean Firth captures the engaging warmth and battiness of Cissy, in the early stages of dementia but still determined to remember her past by reuniting the quartet for a gala performance of Verdi's Rigoletto for a critical audience of fellow former performers. Annie Gay demonstrates that old age and glamour are not mutually exclusive and enunciates her lines with the wide-lipped clarity that you might expect from a former operatic superstar. And Alan Fenn as Reggie gives us enlightening glimpses of the tortured soul behind the pocket handkerchief protruding from an immaculately tailored blazer.
He is dressed very differently for the finale, as indeed are the rest of the cast. But donning the costumes is one thing, hitting the right notes quite another. Would Cissie remember her lines? Could Jean get over the singer's equivalent of writer's block? Could any of them avoid going off-key? It didn't matter, as it happened, because they came up with a ruse to avoid embarrassment while revelling all too briefly in the joy of triumphant performances past.
Result: thunderous applause at the final curtain. Not on a Saturday night in Beecham House or Covent Garden but a Monday evening in Earlsdon. Only the fuchsia seemed to look on impassively.
Quartet is at the Criterion until Saturday 10th September.