Stage review: Quartermaine's Terms, Wyndham's

By Giles Broadbent on February 6, 2013 10:49 AM |


Quartermaine's Terms
Wyndham's Theatre

This well-executed and bleak tale of loneliness and English reticence is a necessarily subdued performance by Rowan Atkinson

St John Quartermaine, the gnomic and rooted teacher at Cull Loomis School of English for Foreigners, is as one with his staff room chair.

Few actors could instil such passivity with such presence and potential as Rowan Atkinson.

An Aardman smile, signifying nothing, a waspish swash of those U-bend wrists, a darting tongue moistening lips, Atkinson in repose is as others are at the height of their athleticism.

But the unprepossessing Quartermaine is a disaster as a teacher, poor as a friend and empty as a vessel. No Mr Chips then, our Mr Bean.

Simon Gray's 1981 study of '60s loneliness leaves questions unanswered - has he a hinterland? Is he cultivating his vacancy? Is he pitiable or content? He does little to alleviate the solitude but his colleagues are hardly an advert for conviviality.

He sits as a fulcrum while around him swirl infidelities, sadnesses, depression and frustration, presented to him like apperitifs for a meal he will never consume.

Atkinson is front and centre, but in his absence, this is an ensemble piece.

Conleth Hill is amusing as the clownish Henry, while Matthew Cottle is nicely anguished as a wannabe writer. Felicity Montagu as a frustrated spinster is moving, Malcolm Sinclair, grandly pompous, Will Keen, wincingly suburban and Louise Ford sharply buttoned-up.

Director Richard Eyre presents them framed, as in a portrait, each seeking a keener resolution of themselves.

This all moves towards an inevitably bleak conclusion, via farce, melodrama, and comedy but the end never entirely justifies the means.

The play is brilliantly constructed but, like Quartermaine himself, mostly irrelevant and rarely moving.

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