Quartermaine’s Terms**** (Wyndhams Theatre, 1 February 2013)

Posted: February 1, 2013 in Theatre

photo-109The staff room of  a Cambridge school of English for foreigners in the early 1960s is the setting for Richard Eyre’s welcome revival of Simon Gray’s 1981 comedy. Seven characters appear in the room but it is a host of others who are spoken of but unseen who drive the action. This really is the point as Gray sets out to show how people exist in their own separate orbits, hardly making any meaningful contact with others they meet every day in the workplace; here the truth is never spoken when a platitude can be found to replace it and everyone relates their own triumphs and disasters to others who show only mock interest or concern. For six of the characters, the real world is that which exists outside the staff room. The exception to this is St John Quartermaine, a shambolic teacher whose only world is the staff room; he is unable to engage with his pupils, unable to teach, incapable of even attending all his own lessons, but he vainly seeks to be admitted into the worlds of his colleagues who would only welcome him when they see him as being useful to them. He slouches in the same chair every day, even it is once jokingly suggested during school holidays. He is a true English eccentric and Rowan Atkinson needs to do little more than just be himself in order to capture his essence. However, this is an ensemble piece and Matthew Cottle, Louise Ford, Conleth Hill, Will Keen, Felicity Montagu and Malcolm Sinclair are all perfectly cast, balancing comedy and tragedy as their characters’ individual stories evolve. The main justification for bringing this play in to a West End theatre may have been to provide a star vehicle for Rowan Atkinson, but it also gives a new generation the opportunity to discover Gray’s sharp and wryly funny writing, which cannot be a bad thing.

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