I wrote Quartet over a year and a half ago in early 2020, sitting down for an hour every morning to chip away at it as my way of getting through a term in lockdown. Having handed over my script to the trusted hands of Alex Foster (director) and our stunning actors, I was itching to find out how Quartet has developed. Sitting down to speak with cast members Rosie Owen and Lydia Free, I wanted to know their thoughts on Quartet and how they are finding their first foray into drama at Oxford.
The two came to Oxford drama from different paths. Lydia took a year out of education, working as a waitress, before coming to Oxford. The time out taught her that drama was her priority, so she jumped straight into auditions in her first term. Rosie is a second-year, who stayed out of drama in her first year over lockdown. She tells me she was pleasantly surprised by how friendly the auditions were and that it felt like a workshop, far from the image she had of Oxford drama that ‘you have to know the right people’. “I really enjoyed the audition. It wasn’t ‘you do this’, ‘you do that’ – it was ‘show us what you can do’,” she tells me, adding that she wants to tell her first-year-self, “Everyone can do this. You can.”
Rosie plays Joe, the titular quartet’s kind-hearted actor, while Lydia plays Chris, the quiet and observant writer. It made me laugh to hear that the two have a feud over who’s character is more likeable; neither are budging. Lydia jokes, “I am actually obsessed with Chris. I have a deep soul connection with that boy. I think he’s a beautiful human”. Rosie parries that Joe is “there for absolutely everyone”, to which Lydia ripostes that Chris “seems like a lovely, lovely, kind, observant guy”.
Seems is the integral word here, though. Conversation quickly turns to how thoroughly the actors have been investigating and unpicking their characters. Rosie tells me that in the read-through she initially saw Joe as “quite performative and has a kind heart” but, during the rehearsal process, has found him to be someone with “a very strong sense of integrity” and the true “glue” and “leader” of the group. Lydia too is reckoning with the darker sides of lovely lovely Chris who, to her enjoyment, delivers what is perhaps the cruellest line of the play. “These are full humans that we have to take in,” Lydia tells me.
For both Rosie and Lydia, the malleability of the script is one of their favourite parts of Quartet, that will keep it “new and fresh” with every performance. “It has got the potential to feel different each night … I love that about good writing, that it’s not just one-note … There are so many lines and dynamics that, if one night you say something differently, it can change the tone and meaning each night. It’s very poignant,” Rosie says.
Lydia in particular is looking forward to playing with the flexibility of the script in the final scene. Without revealing too much, the final action of the play leaves a lot to be questioned in regard to Chris. Lydia jokes, she wants to “maximum [sic] the audience’s despair of wanting answers”. Rosie too jumps in, “that last bit is really ‘Oh sh*t!’” You’ll have to come see Quartet to find out what it is they’re talking about…
Quartet is playing at the Burton Taylor Studio 9.30pm Tuesday 23rd November – Saturday 27th November. Tickets are available via the Playhouse website.