Bittersweet comedy tapping into the pain of old age (Teesdale Mercury)

Cissy, Reggie and Wilf are in a home for retired opera singers. Years ago they all took leading roles in a performance of Verdi”s Rigoletto, which has just been re-released on CD. Each year, on the 10 Oct there is a concert at the home to celebrate Verdi”s birthday, and everyone is expected to perform. But what to choose for only three voices?

In this bittersweet comedy the four actors do a fine job in tapping into the humour of their characters as well as the pain of old age generally with Veronica Lowery both charming and funny in the role of forgetful Cissie and Chris Allcock delighting the audience as irrepressible Wilf. Mike Sillars as Reggie successfully switches suddenly from gentlemanly intellectual to grumpy old man with a grudge and is appalled at the arrival of his ex-wife, Jean, played glamorously by Jan Richardson Wilde, who arrives at the home and disrupts their equilibrium. She still acts like a diva and refuses to sing. But the show must go on…

“Art is meaningless unless it makes you feel” is a phrase we constantly hear in the production, and by turns we feel amused, outraged, sympathetic and saddened by the ravages of old age. But the actors “rage, rage, against the dying of the light” and we can laugh along with these operatic has-beens, rather than at them. Attention is focused on character, rather than the simple plot [will she, won”t she, and why], and on the contrast between stoic acceptance of age and living off memories of former glory. The challenging finale is pulled off with aplomb.

Written by Ronald Harwood (The Dresser) and directed by Pamela Westgarth, Quartet continues until 13th April at 7.30 pm at the Academy Theatre, Gainford. For ticket sales and to join the mailing list, please contact Viv Brown on 01325 730485. Production team includes: John Robinson, Richard Stephenson, Joan Hillery Robinson, Di Peat, John Lowery, Harry Robinson, Kate Allcock, Joan White, Iris Hillery, Viv & Mike Brown, Enid Burdon, Avis Tucker.

Four Excel in opera comedy (Darlington & Stockton Times)

The quartet of amateur actors currently starring in Ronald Harwood”s comedy of the same name are giving audiences at the Academy Theatre in Gain-ford a real treat. The action begins on a summer”s day at a residential home for retired musicians. Three old friends — once the brightest stars in the opera world — start to reminisce, their fading memories stirred by the re-release, on CD, of their old recording of Rigoletto. But their peaceful existence is soon shattered by the arrival of the final member of the original quartet, the catty Jean, fallen on hard times .

Chris Allcock is superb as the sex-obsessed but harmless Wilfred Bond, refusing to conform, while Veronica Lowery”s sensitive handling of Cecily, who makes no fuss over Jean”s increasingly petulant demands as they prepare to mime Rigoletto for a gala at the home to mark Verdi”s birthday, is carried off with great skill. Jan Richardson-Wilde also puts in a sterling performance as Jean, the former diva finding it difficult to come to terms with old age and poverty.

Mike Sillars portrayal of Reggie, who defines a gentleman as someone who would not unintentionally hurt someone, is hilarious, especially when his guard slips and he vents his spleen on the carer who uses probably the only power she possesses to deny him marmalade for breakfast .

The play, while funny and exuberant, is ultimately about the trials and tribulations of getting old, and the triumph of the human spirit .

The production is directed and produced by Pam Westgarth, who is worthy of mention .

Others involved behind the scenes are Enid Burdon, Di Peat, Barrington Wearmouth, John Robinson, Richard Stephenson, Joan Hillery Robinson, John Lower~ Harry Robinson, Kate Allcock, Joan White, Viv Brown, Mike Brown and Avis Tucker.