The depredations of aging can be difficult to bear, especially for those whose stars shone most brightly in their youth. Centred on a small group of retired opera singers, the Queensland Theatre Company's charming production of Quartet (also an acclaimed 2012 British film) considers individuals' search for meaning when one's remaining time and talents are in short supply.
In Quartet, being performed at QPAC's Playhouse till February 21, Reggie (Andrew McFarlane), Cissy (Christine Amor) and Wilf (Trevor Stuart) are living out the remainder of their days in an old folks' home for retired performers. The indignities imposed by the loss of youth and the institution's schedule are leavened with ample humour - in the form of Cissy's failing memory, Wilf's constant dirty talk, and dashing gentleman Reggie's desperate quest to secure 'bloody marmalade ... not apricot jam' with his breakfast.
Then into these tedious but comfortable confines is thrown once-popular opera diva Jean (Kate Wilson). Her arrival creates an uproar, with no-one feeling it more than her former husband Reggie, still smarting from Jean's infidelity all those years ago. The rest of the residents, keen to bask in reflected glory, though, try to convince Jean to join them in a performance of Verdi's 'Rigoletto' at the annual gala concert. When Jean refuses, the question becomes: Can this foursome cast aside old grudges and steal the limelight one last time?
Written by Ronald Harwood and directed by Andrea Moor, Quartet details the journey into old age that most of us will make. Says QTC artistic director Sam Strong, it uses the experience of a niche group of people (retired opera singers) to explore universal concerns (such as how to live a meaningful life while staring mortality in the face).
The notion of a retirement home designed especially for former performers seems unlikely - and was something which niggled me for the duration of the performance. However, I later learned that Verdi, in fact, created just such an institution in Milan, Italy, in 1896. He described the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti, designed 'to shelter elderly singers who have not been favoured by fortune, or who when they were young did not have the virtue of saving their money' as the most pleasing of all his works. So rather than stretching credulity, Quartet is squarely based upon fact.
Following the conclusion of its Brisbane season, Quartet will tour regional theatres across the state, visiting areas including Toowoomba, Rockhampton, Cairns and Ipswich.