By Ronald Harwood

Wharf Theatre, Devizes

Until Saturday November 11

THE Wharf celebrates its refurbishment with Ronald Harwood’s joyous celebration of old age.

The story is set in a retirement home for opera singers where old friends and acquaintances share their reminiscences and music and are planning their annual fund raising concert to take place on Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday.

At first we have Reggie (Lewis Cowen), a fastidious man and a stickler for professionalism, carefree Wilf (Martin Turner) who fosters his reputation as a red hot lover in the past, and Cissy (Jax Brady), whose illustrious and colourful past is disappearing in confusion as she begins to lose the plot. Her friends do their best to hide her problems from staff lest she be deemed unfit to stay at the home.

Then into the mix comes a diva, Jean (Louise Peak) who not only has a formidable reputation for intolerance and an acid tongue, she is also Reggie’s ex-wife. He is distraught and the scene is set for unhappy chaos.

But Harwood has a wonderfully light touch. Through these diverse characters he explores the ageing process and coming to terms with life’s disappointments with humour and compassion. Reggie collects aphorisms which direct his determined optimism. Lewis Cowen delivers a controlled performance which suggests turbulence under the surface. This calm makes his occasional furious rants provoked by Jean, all the more effective.

Jax Brady is totally endearing and very funny as Cissy, beautifully capturing the hazy contentment of someone whose mind is increasingly wandering. You laugh with her, not at her.

Jean represents quite the opposite. Louise Peak shows us an embittered fallen star who still acts the part of the diva. But she also allows us to see the true fragility underlying the facade.

There is nothing not to love about Martin Turner’s randy Wilf. He gives us a cuddly, good humoured man who accepts ageing as part of the process of life and is determined to make the best of whatever is on offer.

Directed by Tess Richards, this is a rewarding production which lends warmth and sparkle to a chilly November evening.

Jo Bayne