Not that you’d know it from the marketing, but Quartermaine’s Terms is an ensemble play. Other than Rowan Atkinson, sitting alone on the posters as the eponymous St John Quartermaine, there’s a whole cast of well-versed players, each with their own impressively long list of credits underneath their names in the programme. There’s Malcolm Sinclair as a decreasingly imposing co-headmaster, Felicity Montagu going deranged in increments, and most memorably Conleth Hill (who we knew we recognised from somewhere, that somewhere being the role of Varys in Game of Thrones). As a cast, they’re great, chemistry-wise and alone.
But still, Londonist finds itself watching Atkinson when he’s not actively a part of the scene. As Quartermaine descends into what is never explicitly called dementia, but is probably dementia, he disappears more and more into his own little world, staring off into space and silently swaying along to a tune that only he can hear.
It’s representative of how exposition is handled in Quartermaine’s Terms as a whole: never explicitly stated, but probably most likely true. Henry (Hill) and Melanie (Felicity) have some kind of history that’s only touched upon in the dialogue although it forms the backbone of probably the best subplot, wherein Melanie may or may not have done something terrible by the end.
On the surface, not much is going on. It’s only one set, and it’s a dialogue-heavy script. Typical of Gray’s work, it’s deceptively light and warm on the surface but with a dark and terribly sad core. It’s not a million miles off a Blackadder-esque sitcom, tonally, but this is black comedy at its purest, where both sides of that genre equation are equally important. Here, people are cruel and caustic and uncaring but hilarious and bumbling and very, very apologetic about the cruel and uncaring parts.
In summary: it’s great. We loved it, right until it broke our little heart at the end. We still love it.
Quartermaine’s Terms is at Wyndam’s Theatre until 13 April 2013; tickets are available here.