REVIEW: Quartet is a poignantly realistic yet humorous take on growing old

The cast of Quartet, which is at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday.

The cast of Quartet, which is at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday. - Credit: Archant

Tackling the often depressing reality of growing old, Quartet is a purposefully slow-paced tale of four ageing opera singers whiling away the last of the days in a care home for artistes.

It might not sound like much of a laugh on paper, but thanks to the famous faces from television and film that make up the captivating cast of Ronald Harwood’s play, regular bursts of subtle humour are combined with darker, varying analyses of what it’s like to be elderly.

Each character is different from the other, portraying contrasting personalities perfectly. Wendi Peters, who played Cilla in Coronation Street for many years, is totally unrecognisable as Hyacinth Bouquet-type eccentric Cecily Robson.

There’s also randy old man Wilfred Bond (Paul Nicholas, who played Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, on fine form) delivering rampant one-liners to laugh out loud effect.

The original trio is completed by grouchy, analytical Reginald Paget (Drop the Dead Donkey’s Jeff Rawle) who is writing an autobiography but has only got to the middle of his childhood years.

The three of them are learning to be content that they’re still alive - albeit bored a lot of the time.

That is until new arrival Jean Horton (played by Sue Holderness, who was Marlene Boyce Only Fools and Horses) moves into the care home.

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While remaining self-obsessed, posh and hard on the outside it’s impossible not to feel empathetic towards her as her life story unravels. For Reggie, though, Jean’s appearance is a nightmarish rehashing of the past...

Deliberately slow-moving, the repetitiveness and forgetfulness of Cecily and Jean are recognisable in most people’s elderly relatives, and it provides a well thought out reflection on the pains - physical and psychological - of growing old.

With each of the four protagonists constantly reminiscing and reimagining the golden years that have passed, it’s an affecting, believable reflection of our fondness for the past.

Quartet is at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday April 7.

For tickets and performance times visit