Review: Four Quartets

Ralph Fiennes needs no introduction. From an abundance of stage credits through to his critically acclaimed TV and movie roles (Lord Voldemort, anyone?), he is truly one of the most well-respected and admired actors out there.

So, when it was announced he was to tour the UK performing T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, plenty of people jumped at the chance to return to theatres everywhere. York Theatre Royal is almost full for the performance, which is a complete joy to see.

The set, designed by Hildegard Bechtler, is pretty minimalist – a couple of chairs, a table and huge towering blocks that are moved from time to time throughout the performance. It’s almost foreboding, how bare the stage looks. The minimal sound and lighting effects also serve to provide a raw, honest atmosphere.

I feel I would have benefited greatly from reading up on T. S. Eliot’s poetry beforehand. Having a grasp of Four Quartets as a written piece would have perhaps made the performance more enjoyable, as I would have been familiar with the text. Fiennes performs the words as though we’re already in on the secret, and I’m not sure all of us are.

Performances of classic Shakespeare plays, for example, should perfectly convey the meaning of the language and the context of the piece without one needing to really understand every word, but perhaps the same is not meant to apply here. Fiennes is an exceptional actor, there really is no doubt about that, but there’s a strong sense that audience members are here to learn, to think, to be inspired, educated and questioned rather than to be necessarily entertained.

Ralph Fiennes exudes stage presence and commands respect. The stage is his, as is our attention. The creative team, and Fiennes himself as director of the piece, use various techniques to change the atmosphere and pace of the performance to avoid it becoming stagnant. From plunging darkness to flashes of intense red lighting, these jolting moments bring us back into the performance and add elements of visual excitement.

It certainly is a treat to sit in the same room as one of the country’s acting legends – an opportunity you shouldn’t let pass you by if you’re a Fiennes fan! He’ll be performing Four Quartets at York Theatre Royal until 31st July.

Photograph credited to Matt Humphreys

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