by Ronald Harwood
Read-through – Thursday 2nd June 19.30pm
Audition – Thursday 30th June – 19.30pm
Performances 22nd to 26th November, Rehearsals from about 3rd October
As those familiar with the recent film starring Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly and Tom Courtenay, which was based on this play, will be aware, the setting is a retirement home for professional musicians. Three elderly former opera-singers, Reggie, Wilfred and Cecily (Cissie), learn, each with sharply different reactions to this disruption of their comfortable equilibrium, that they are to about to be joined by Jean, who was a Diva, a major star, in her day, and to whom Reggie was once briefly and unhappily married.
All four have from time to time in the past worked with one another, most notably on a recording of the famous quartet from Act 3 of Verdi’s “Rigoletto”. A gala concert is about to take place at the retirement home in celebration of Verdi’s birthday. Is there a chance that these four will sing together again? Three of the four are keen to recreate their previous triumph with the Rigoletto quartet, but the fourth is not.
So much the film and the play have in common, but in the treatment of the basic plot and the themes within it they are quite different, most particularly in the ending of the play, and in its focus entirely on the four central protagonists, with no other characters such as appear in the film.
The characters are then, in order of speaking:
Wilfred: A randy old man who delights in talking “dirty” to Cecily, especially when she can’t hear him. Having enjoyed a long-lasting marriage despite his being a prolific womaniser, he now rails about the physical decay involved in becoming old. He finds rules and formality irksome.
Reggie: A careful, serious and somewhat withdrawn man, who likes a comfortable, well-ordered and structured life, in which he can pursue quietly his study of the true meaning of art. The two things which penetrate his calm exterior and send him into a volcanic emotional eruption are the news of his ex-wife’s pending arrival, and being given apricot jam instead of marmalade for breakfast!
Cecily (Cissie): She is a bubbly, jolly and excitable soul, who is eager to be friends with everyone, and finds everything enormous fun. She likes to spend a lot of time listening to music on her headphones, especially the four’s recording of the quartet. There is a hint that all is not well, however, in her habit of welcoming people back from somewhere where none of them have ever been, particularly from Karachi.
Jean: Haughty, tactless, constantly reminding everyone of her Diva status, she is now bitter and miserable at being reduced to having to live among lesser performers, rather than with “virtuosi”. In her defence, she is in near constant pain from a hip, for which she is “on the list” for a replacement. Her emotional “joumey” through the play is one of the more interesting to explore.
In general, although the playing age for all the characters is stated to be 70+, I am prepared to quite flexible about this, in order to encourage anyone who would like to take a part to come forward and audition.
The other point I must make absolutely clear from the outset, is that
NOBODY, REPEAT NOBODY, IS REQUIRED TO SING!