Wendi Peters: 'Quartet touches on the funny side of dementia'

We chat to Peters about her latest project and life on the road

Paul Nicholas, Sue Holderness, Jeff Rawle and Wendi Peters in Quartet
Paul Nicholas, Sue Holderness, Jeff Rawle and Wendi Peters in Quartet
© Thousand Word Media

Best known for playing Cilla Battersby-Brown in Coronation Street, Wendi Peters' extensive stage career includes productions of Oh! What a Lovely War, White Christmas and Rutherford and Son.

She is now starring in Ronald Harwood's comedy Quartet, which is currently running at the Everyman Cheltenham before embarking on a UK tour.

We caught up with Peters to find out more about the show, playing a character 20 years her senior and how she copes with life on the road.

Quartet is a comedy about four residents in a retirement home for opera singers and musicians. They're all in their 70s, they've retired and they've gone to the home to wait for god, basically.

Anybody can relate to it, not just the elderly. We had some creative writing university students in last night, they found it fascinating and laughed a lot. It's a huge comedy. Ronnie [writer Ronald Harwood] adapted it into a film a few years ago with Maggie Smith, Pauline Collins, Tom Courtenay and Billy Connolly, it's funny, but not half as funny as the stage show. We're getting big belly laughs where we weren't expecting them.

I play Sissy, a busybody with a bit of a past who was an alto in the opera. She's loving and ditzy, and very nice – which is so lovely for me because I usually play nasty roles. She's known for liking the manly men and doing naughty things in the wings with them. But then we go deeper into her childhood and find out she didn't know her parents and that's why she craves the attention. So there's lovely insight amongst the fun.

We also touch on dementia and the funny side of it. We all know somebody who is dealing with dementia, and 20 years ago it was a bit of a taboo subject, but I think now we're so much more open about it. It's quite funny when somebody says something out of the blue, and it's ok now to laugh at that. The characters' struggles with life and death are very funny.

It's fabulous playing someone so much older than myself. It's challenging and lovely that they've trusted me with it. I have a lovely grey wig and it's nice not having to put any makeup on – I can get ready in the quarter!

I've spent the last four months just watching old people. Even now I've just been out on the streets in Cheltenham watching a fabulous little old lady. Just watching how she walks, she was dressed so glamorously but she's still walking with her shopping trolley. I've been doing a lot of that and watching how people deal with steps!

My secrets to surviving life on the road would be to always find an M&S! You can never go wrong with an M&S or a Waitrose. I also take my pillow, that's one thing I never go out on tour without. And I have a big suitcase – I never travel lightly. We're going to some beautiful places, like Bath and Cambridge, it's a really lovely tour with lovely theatres, so I'm really looking forward to it.

My dream roles are a bit predictable. It would have to be Rose in Gypsy and Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd.

Quartet runs at Cheltenham Everyman Theatre until 21 April and then tours.