A revival of Ronald Harwood’s bittersweet comedy, Quartet, brings actor Jeff Rawle back on tour to the city in which he grew up.
The tale of a group of ageing opera singers residing in a retirement home in Kent may be known to many from the 2012 film version starring Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins and Billy Connolly.
“I think anyone who thinks they have seen it already because of the film should know this is a very different piece,” points out Jeff Rawle . “There is more plot with many twists. Ronnie Harwood’s original play is beautifully written and the language is terrific. Films are about pictures rather than words so there is more fizz about the piece than there was in the film, enjoyable though it was.”
While the film opened it out the play has just the four characters.
“The nice thing is it focuses on the quartet and the four voices,” continues Rawle. “He based it on the play by Victor Hugo that inspired Verdi’s Rigoletto. Hugo was apparently very jealous of its success but Verdi managed to integrate four individual voices into the quartet.
“Ronald Harwood also manages to make these people have individual lives although they are all eccentric and on the edge of battiness. It’s delightful.”
The nice thing is it focuses on the quartet and the four different voices
“Paul Nicholas is Wilf who was a bit of a heartthrob in his day and had huge success in the past. My character Reg is obsessed with art and definitely his own art, he’s also a sharp and neat dresser. Then there’s Cissy, played by Wendy Peters, who’s in a world of their own.
“The three of them together in the retirement home have to cope with the arrival of Jean (Sue Holderness). Particularly Reggie who thought he had escaped her, this woman he was once married to. They are both trapped and have to come to terms with all they have been through over the past 40 years.”
Rawle hadn’t previously worked with the others who are all “getting along famously”.
“We have had more laughs in rehearsals than I can remember for a long time. It’s a very wordy piece and quite challenging and exacting. He is very careful about how he crafts the dialogue. There are so many other vagaries with lots of props so you have to be precise with the timing of things.”
The actor, a former High Storrs pupil and best known as hapless news editor George Dent on Drop the Dead Donkey and Amos Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. was at the Crucible in 2016 in Waiting for Godot. “Sheffield is my home town so it is nice to come back and do something,” he says. “I still have one or two friends here that I will see and who will be coming to the show.”
What of the serial murder Silas Blissett he played on Hollyoaks? “He’s lying low. He’s an off stage character who is much discussed on forums and things. I love the idea that people don’t know if he is going to re-appear, to suddenly jump out at them.”
Last year Rawle was filming Mike Leigh’s epic movie, Peterloo. Though now in post production its release is likely to coincide with the 200th anniversary in 2019. It was his first experience of Leigh’s unique working process.
“We spent a lot of time rehearsing and Mike was quite secretive about what was happening. I play the Rev William Hay, a magistrate who signed the arrest warrant which set off the events leading to the massacre. He is the nastiest piece of work with no redeeming features.
“I do seem to have gone from playing goodies to baddies,” he laughs.
Although not in Quarter which is at the Lyceum from Tuesday to Saturday.