Quartermaine’s Terms

From the comically defined opening to the sadness of the final scene, the hallmark of Richard Eyre's revival of "Quartermaine's Terms" is the detail he teases out of his actors.

St. John Quartermaine - Rowan Atkinson
Mark Sackling - Matthew Cottle
Anita Manchip - Louise Ford
Henry Windscape - Conleth Hill
Derek Meadle - Will Keen
Melanie Garth - Felicity Montagu
Eddie Loomis - Malcolm Sinclair

From the comically defined opening to the sadness of the final scene, the hallmark of Richard Eyre’s revival of “Quartermaine’s Terms” is the detail he teases out of his actors. Worried glances, flickers of hope, flinches of embarrassment all deepen Simon Gray’s 1982 group portrait of loneliness amid a crowd. The exception is Rowan Atkinson, whose disconnected St John Quartermaine is fully-fledged from curtain-up. But revealing his hand too soon gives the character almost nowhere to go and ultimately robs the otherwise tender evening of climactic pathos.

Something of a cross between Rattigan’s “The Browning Version” and Christopher Hampton’s portrait of diffidence “The Philanthropist” — both masterpieces of British understatement set in academia — this is actually Gray’s most Chekhovian play. The deluded characters are poised on the edge between comedy and tragedy and they also people a play in which although little happens, a quietly engrossing world is conjured.

Replacing action with the collision of characters both on and off stage, Gray restricts the activity to the staff room of a 1960s Cambridge school where English is taught to foreigners. As the school’s fortunes dwindle, the characters, paradoxically, become increasingly rich in texture.

The teachers tussle with their hopes and family lives, or lack thereof. Largely unknown to themselves, but comically laid out by the dramatist, nearly all of them are leading lives of quiet desperation.

Partly to cover the exposition and partly to establish characters with broad brushstrokes, Eyre goes for broke in the opening scene. Once that comic outline has been drawn, the actors spend the rest of the time quietly filling it in.

A marvelously pompous, erect Malcolm Sinclair is one of the head teachers. Reveling in his patrician manner, he is a walking monument to self-esteem dressed up as concern for others. Arguably the boldest perf, however, is that of Will Keen, who stops just deliciously short of exaggeration as hapless, gauche new teacher Derek, desperate to make a go of things.

Keen’s perfectly judged awkwardness is matched by the comic grandiosity of Conleth Hill, whose Henry sweeps about the room thinking nothing of corralling anyone and everyone to fit in with his plans and pretentiousness. Between them, Matthew Cottle’s blinkered Mark attempts to convince everyone — but mostly himself — that he’s going to complete his first novel.

Gray famously wrote better (and considerably more) for men than women, but both Louise Ford and Felicity Montagu offer outstanding work on the distaff side. The latter, initially very touching as a lovelorn spinster, builds bigger and bigger laughs as she grows into a woman on the verge of matricide. Ford, meanwhile, unostentatiously wins sympathy as a woman whose dismissive self-deprecation only just keeps her afloat in the troubled seas of her mistimed marriage.

In the midst of all this sits Atkinson, who never leaves his armchair except when asked by others seeking privacy or to teach a lesson – and sometimes not even then. From the distracted hovering of his hands to the fixed, vacant gaze, Atkinson plays him not as a man absenting himself from the confusing “stuff” between people which he cannot fathom, but more as someone bordering on the catatonic. That, alas, doesn’t allow for developing empathy.

The play is fashioned as his tragedy. To achieve that, Atkinson creates as complete a character as he does with Mr. Bean. But for all his evident sincerity, he turns Quartermaine’s downfall into a foregone conclusion. One appreciates the sadness, but your heart doesn’t break.

Popular on Variety

Quartermaine's Terms

Wyndham's Theater, London; 750 seats; £58.50 $92 top

Production: A Michael Codron, Anthony Pye-Jeary, Theater Royal Bath Productions presentation of a play in two acts by Simon Gray. Directed by Richard Eyre.

Creative: Sets and costumes, Tim Hatley; lighting, David Howe; sound, John Leonard; production stage manager, Nick Bromley. Opened, reviewed Jan. 29. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.

Cast: St. John Quartermaine - Rowan Atkinson
Mark Sackling - Matthew Cottle
Anita Manchip - Louise Ford
Henry Windscape - Conleth Hill
Derek Meadle - Will Keen
Melanie Garth - Felicity Montagu
Eddie Loomis - Malcolm Sinclair

More Legit

  • Broadway-Breakfast-Split

    Variety to Celebrate Second Business of Broadway Breakfast With Thomas Schumacher, Diane Paulus and Diablo Cody

    Variety has announced the lineup for its second annual Business of Broadway breakfast presented by City National Bank. Joining the breakfast on Oct. 7 is the president and producer of Disney Theatrical Productions Thomas Schumacher, who will take part in the event’s keynote conversation. In his position, Thomas oversees the company’s worldwide stage productions, which [...]

  • Sue Wagner John Johnson

    Tony-Winning Producers Sue Wagner and John Johnson Announce New Venture, Wagner Johnson Productions

    Sue Wagner and John Johnson, seven-time Tony award-winning producers, announced Wednesday that they have embarked on a new theatrical business venture, Wagner Johnson Productions. Under the name, they will produce and general manage a wide scope of theater productions. One of Wagner Johnson Productions’ current projects is a musical rendition of “Almost Famous,” which will [...]

  • Sam Rockwell and Laurence Fishburne

    Sam Rockwell, Laurence Fishburne Starring in Broadway Revival of 'American Buffalo'

    Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell will star in an upcoming Broadway revival of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo.” The show marks Rockwell’s first appearance on the Great White Way since his 2014 performance in the revival of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love.” The five-year absence saw him pick up an Oscar for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, [...]

  • Secret Derren Brown review

    Broadway Review: 'Derren Brown: Secret'

    Audiences love to be fooled, whether it’s with clever plotting with a twist, the arrival of an unexpected character or even a charming flimflam man with a British accent. The latter is Derren Brown, and he’s entertaining audiences for a limited run at the Cort Theatre, where he is playing head-scratching mind games and other [...]

  • Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica ParkerNew York

    Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker to Reunite on Broadway for 'Plaza Suite'

    Real-life couple Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker are hitting the Broadway stage again for a reboot of the late Neil Simon’s 1968 play “Plaza Suite.” The staging will mark the Broadway directorial debut of Tony award-winner John Benjamin Hickey. Set in New York City’s Plaza Hotel in Suite 719, “Plaza Suite” is comprised of [...]

  • Derren Brown

    Listen: Derren Brown Spills His Broadway 'Secret'

    Derren Brown has spent a lot of his career performing magic shows on theater stages — but he’ll be the first to tell you that magic usually doesn’t make for great theater. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “If you’re a magician of any sort, you can make stuff happen with a click of your [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content