Quartet at the Albery Theatre
Quartet, a new play by Ronald Harwood whose previous West End hits include The Dresser and Taking Sides, is a reliably well-made, sincerely old-fashioned, decently observed and honestly acted piece that could - mentions of Viagra apart - have been written anytime over the last half century.
It's a quintessential West End kind of entertainment for a quintessential West End kind of audience - a geriatric play for middle to old age theatregoers who want comfort, not challenge; actors they recognise and admire; and a situation they can personally identify with, namely their own advancing years.
Set in a rural retirement home for ageing opera singers, it brings together four one-time co-stars and sometime lovers of the operatic stages. The cosy world of the three onstage as the play begins - Wilfred (Donald Sinden), Reginald (Alec McCowen) and Cecily Robson (Stephanie Cole) - is dramatically disrupted by the arrival of a fourth, Jean (Angela Thorne) who, it turns out, was once married - very briefly - to Reginald.
Not an awful lot happens in the course of the next two hours, apart from the group's preparations to celebrate the anniversary of Verdi's birthday by recreating their third act quartet from Rigoletto. Instead, you are left to admire the lovely performances of three of the four actors: Sinden, McCowen and Cole are all touching and sincere, but Thorne is sorely miscast and directed to play on one, mostly unrelieved, note of fragile indignation.
Since the role is so pivotal to the rest of the drama, such as it is, Christopher Morahan's production is almost fatally undermined. That Harwood's play does survive, however, and gives such pleasure as it does to its appreciative target audience, is a testament both to the playwright's skill at providing excellent parts for actors, and the relish with which these are seized by the other three.