Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Four in a quest for past glory

Reliving the good old days: Robert Onions as Reg, Susan Lynch as Jean, Mary Whitehouse as Cecily and Guy Radforth as Wilf.


Grange Players, Grange Playhouse, Walsall


OR BELLA figlia dell'amore as they say in the world of opera - as plays go this is a little too close for comfort among the more . . . mature, members of the audience.

Three aging opera stars inhabiting a retirement home for fading theatricals, all fighting off the stifling cloak of senility with a mixture of concerts, intrigue and committees is a scenario full of laughs and a reminder of mortality – the only thing certain in this life.

Ronald Harwood’s 1999 play is cleverly written with a great sense of fun, tinged as we get to know the four characters, the quartet, with a little sadness.  These are characters you recognise, perhaps only too well among those whose better years have drifted, almost unnoticed, behind them, which adds a poignancy to what is a fine comedy.

We have the quite, mild mannered, unassuming Reginald, who likes everything to be in order and formal, noted down in his pocketbook, and is played with a wonderfully understated calm by Robert Onions.

He never gets flustered, until his ex-wife appears that is, or whenever he sees Nurse Angelique, a sighting which unleashes a torrent of vitriol in regular skirmishes in what appears to be a long running breakfast feud. Best to stay out of that one.

Then there is Wilfred, the life and soul of any party with a preoccupation with all things sexual. Men apparently think of sex on average 19 times a day; without Wilf the average could well drop to single figures. Guy Radforth plays him beautifully with considerable zeal as a bearded, fun-loving white haired would be lothario.

The pair once worked together along with the third member of their trio, Cecily, a once mezzo-soprano of some note. The note is no longer as clear as it was though and Cecily has trouble remembering things and at times drifts into a parallel word  from a different age. She is played with a sad vagueness by . . . don’t tell me . . . begins with a G or is it an N – like that women who didn’t like sex on the telly . . . Barbara Woodhouse . . . no, no, Mary Whitehouse, that’s it Mary Whitehouse, and doesn't she come from Karachi? Karachi? You need to be there to know why.

Cecily’s past involved, should we say, a lot of horizontal exercise, leaving her with her own memorable, and not so memorable, personal cast list.

All three give a sympathetic portrayal of elderly people in various stages of decay who are keeping young by a mixture of mischief and companionship. The trio worked many times together in the past and find an easy comfort together as the lights dim on their lives – until the arrival of Jean, a sophisticated, beautiful - and still attractive - mega-star of the opera in her day, a day a generation ago..

Susan Lynch gives her a haughty and vulnerable air as the diva who has fallen on hard times, something she finds hard to accept,  and who ended up as a charity case in a home for retirees from the world of opera.

Jean was married to Reg for a while but neither want to talk about it nor will she discuss why she refuses to join the trio in a proposed revival of their famed quartet from Verdi’s Rigoletto in a gala concert at the home, a concert to mark the 200th anniversary of Verdi’s birth in 1813 on October 10th.

The friction sees the mild mannered Reg show flashes of petulance rather than out and out anger – that is reserved for Nurse Angelique – and it is in the second Act as the quartet reveal parts of themselves from their pasts that they become human and we see them in a sadder, softer light. 

Cecily regrets her promiscuous past while we find out the desolate truth about Reg and Jean’s marriage - and Jean’s real reason for her abrupt retirement to look after her home and children some 30 years ago.

As for Wilf? His truth is both unexpected and yet so predictable as he enters the play’s confessional. We realise we all know a Wilf.

Suddenly we have four elderly residents, long ago opera singers who no long know if they can still sing and whose lives are drifting to the final curtain with little more to show for their time on earth than memories and a newly re-released CD of the four of them in Rigoletto. Past glories preserved in plastic.

Will they ever sing together again? You will have to go to the Grange Playhouse to find out, and it is well worth the visit. Directed with a gentle pace and sense of sun by Rosemary Manjunath with a realistic set from Tony and SUe Groves, Robert Onions and Adam Worton, the quartet reunite to 23-11-13.

Roger Clarke 

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