Quartermaine's Terms

by Simon Gray

Quartermaine's Terms had 4 performances over 5 years ago (between the 6th of April 2016 and the 9th of April 2016) at The Riverhouse Barn

178th Production. Quartermaine’s Terms, first staged in 1981, is perhaps Simon Gray’s finest work; an English drama that stands comparison with Chekhov in its ability to combine comedy with a powerful undertow of melancholy and loss. Simon Gray was oddly preoccupied with loneliness and in this play he takes his fascination with the English sense of detachment to unusual lengths and the result is a rueful social comedy.

Rowan Atkinson starred in the recent West End revival of this award-winning play set in the 1960s in a school for English for foreigners in Cambridge. It offers a highly comic but ultimately moving account of several years in the lives of seven misfit teachers, centered around the hapless St John Quartermaine.

Quartermaine is contented, pleasant and generous, but a hopeless teacher and desperately lonely outside his school life. He seems to be an almost permanent fixture in the staff-room, always available to listen to the personal problems of his self-obsessed colleagues, each of whom harbours a private tragedy. Mark’s wife leaves him; Derek, from Hull, finds Cambridge initially unwelcoming; Eddie is ultimately bereaved by the loss of a partner; Anita’s husband is a philanderer; Henry is trapped in a dysfunctional nuclear family and Melanie is similarly trapped caring for a mother whom she despises. Quartermaine himself is an increasingly pathetic figure lost in his own confused thoughts and ultimately deserted. His future as the play closes is poignantly bleak.

Themes The dominant theme is loneliness and, during the course of the play, all the characters experience the trauma of being or feeling alone. Whilst the play is at times highly comic, it has a very serious theme; and the struggles of each character with their own types of loneliness are moving and sad.

Gray's great strength lies in his sense of irony. The biggest joke of all is that these motley misfits are not just teaching language but imparting English values to eager foreigners; yet they themselves embody, to a fault, the English failure to connect emotionally.

Production A straightforward single set of a 1960s staff room for foreign adult learners – an established, homely, slightly musty and warm, faintly academic space for the staff to transit through, pausing to chat to each other on their way to and from home and their lessons. For Quartermaine, it may be more of a home. A view of the garden (croquet lawn?) should be visible through French windows, with sympathetic natural lighting. I expect to produce this in traditional (ie ‘end-on’) format in the Riverhouse Barn, rather than in the round.

Characters: This is an ensemble piece with all the parts approx the same size and weight. Most of the play is dialogue, but all except Quartermaine also have their own fairly clear section (eg a monologue) that gives more insight into their character’s context and difficulties.

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St John Quartermaine - Marc Anderson

(50s). The focus of the play. A diffident bachelor who, in the words of one character, has "an amazing ability not to let the world impinge on [him]". A very kindly man but terrible teacher, who seems curiously detached from his own life and who becomes ever more vague and blank as the years pass.

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Anita Manchip - Emma Thompson

(c25-35) One of the younger teachers, Anita is serially deceived by a philandering husband Nigel. She and Nigel are friends with Mark Sackling and his wife outside work. Much of Anita’s plot involves her being in denial about the affairs Nigel is clearly involved in. Later in the play Nigel seems to reform; Anita gets pregnant, has a baby, and gets pregnant again – but now that he loves her and the baby, does she love him any more?

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Mark Sackling - Neil James

(c30s) Mark spends his spare time consumed by trying and failing to write his first great novel. At the start of the play Mark’s wife leaves him, taking their infant son, largely due to their feeling neglected by his writing. Distraught, he is a broken man at the beginning. His marriage gets repaired and they have another son, but his writing never improves!

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Eddie Loomis - Wally Walters

(60s+) Played by John Gielgud in the TV adaptation, the school's discreetly gay co-principal rules the school with a fist of iron in a velvet glove alongside his partner Thomas. His regular small talk with each member of his only ‘family’ (ie the staff) can unintentionally be insensitive.

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Derek Meadle - Jamie Frier

(c22-35) A bit of an outsider, an accident-prone newcomer from Hull, Derek finds Cambridge initially unwelcoming. His energy and perspective gives a bit of a lift to the staff room, and his situation provides much comedy in the first act of the play (torn trousers, bicycle clips, everyone getting his name wrong etc). He turns out to be the hardest and most effective worker, but he’s on a temporary contract so can the school make him permanent in harder times? Settles down a bit when he meets a girlfriend.

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Henry Windscape - Graham Collier

(45-50s) A tweedy, liberal humanist and something of a bore, Henry is trapped in a dysfunctional nuclear family. As the Academic Tutor, he is a slight step up from the rest of the staff, and takes over the school at the end and is responsible for sacking Quartermaine. Despite his seeming unflappability he presides over serious domestic challenges involving a neurotic daughter.

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Melanie Garth - Linda Russell

(40s+) A singleton, Melanie is trapped caring for a parasitical mother whom she despises. There has been a flame of romance in the past with Henry, and there is a poignant moment where she unsuccessfully reaches out to him. Her mother dies during the course of the action in somewhat mysterious circumstances, and Melanie turns to old-time religion to see her through.

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Director - Mark Humble

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Set Design and Construction - John Godliman

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Stage Manager and Set Assistant - Liz Thomas

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Set Design and Construction - Simon Waller

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Set Assistant - Emma Dudley

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Set Assistant - Paul Napolitano

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Flyer and Programme Design and Set Assistant - Anne Nunn

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Set Assistant - Bill Payne

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Set Assistant - Clare Pinnock

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Set Assistant - Linda Russell

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Set Assistant - Ian Thomas

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Lighting - Nigel Greenaway

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Lighting - Carolyn Menteith

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Sound - Ian Santry

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Continuity - Julia Stevens

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Wardrobe - Judith Dolley

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Wardrobe - Jill Payne

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Publicity - Nick Lund

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Photography - Alan Bostock (www.photoeyes.biz)

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Front of House Manager and Publicity - Frankie Godliman