Ralph Fiennes Pictures: Matt Humphrey

Four Quartets



‘As for the meaning of the poem as a whole, it is not exhausted by any explanation, for the meaning is what the poem means to different sensitive readers.’

So wrote T.S. Eliot, one of our greatest 20th Century poets, whose four poems,  Four Quartets, written  over a period in the thirties and forties, three of them during the Second World War, are interpreted by Ralph Fiennes, one of our great contemporary actors, at the Malvern Festival Theatre this week.

Indeed this is a rich and unique offering for the ‘sensitive’ and educated reader, or in this instance theatregoer. The Four Quartets – Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages and Little Gidding – reflect a deep and emotional reflection of the theme of TIME above all.

There is no narrative as the usual audience would expect, there is just a sensitive soul, wrestling much of the time with mysteries surrounding the human experience. This involves a flow of hugely rich diction, striking imagery and powerful alliteration that is almost overwhelming.

Ralph Fiennes does more than read the poems. He interprets them dramatically using the full range of his theatrical skills and experience.  

fiennes 2

Moments of stillness are held, subtle emphases and pauses, the use of his voice which can be mellow at times, but strong and reverberatingly stentorian at others. His movements help to create some variety without being a distraction.

Fin Walker – Physicality and Expression Coach – has done brilliant work with the performer to bring life to the words that are almost too rich to be absorbed – there are times when you want to press the Pause button to savour particular images, or words and phrases.

The set and the lighting add significant dimensions to the words and delivery. At times the set felt rather heavy and sombre in the light of words and imagery that were often colourful and alive. However, the overall sense was of a man more struggling with life’s complexities and mysteries than fully at peace with himself and the world.

It is a challenge for any single actor to hold the audience for 80 minutes, but numbers in the audience stood at the end to applaud a virtuoso performance. This outstanding show is for the lover of deep and poetic expression, for a sophisticated audience. Four Quartets runs at the festival theatre until Saturday 24th.

Tim Crow


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