Only Fools and Horses star on the art of ageing...

Sue Holderness (Only Fools and Horses, The Green Green Grass) hated turning 40. She hated turning 50.

The cast
The cast

But this May, when she turns 69, she will be entering her 70th year – and she is loving the thought of it.

It’s a reaction which chimes perfectly with Ronald Harwood’s Quartet, in which she tours to the Theatre Royal Brighton from March 26-31. Four ageing opera singers reside in a magnificent retirement home in Kent. Soon, old rivalries resurface, secrets are revealed and chaos unfolds in Harwood’s celebration of the twilight years and the hilarity of growing old disgracefully.

“I think the play is so relevant to today, this wonderfully-funny story about these people that are entering the last phase of their lives – and Harwood has made it so gloriously funny, so wonderfully entertaining, and it is just wonderful to get to know these characters. I have watched the film version, and it is lovely, but I do think the play works much better. It has just got the four people. Quartet started as a play, and I think that tells you everything. The film is absolutely a different animal whereas this really is the most entertaining piece, beautifully written.

“I have been terribly blessed with the writers that I have worked with. John Sullivan (Only Fools) is of course a million miles away from Ronald Harwood, but it is that same ability to make people laugh and cry.”

She cites the grandad’s death and the fertility problems in Only Fools – genuinely-poignant moments amid all the laughter. And there is something similar happening in Quartet, suggestions of profound sadness amid all the comedy.

“And I think I am finding just doing it terribly comforting about old age. My character is absolutely terrified of death. She was terrified of death ever since she was a little girl, and now she has to face the fact that she is much nearer to death than she would like. But it is wonderful to see this community of characters and how they make the best of it. It is great. I will be entering my 70th year this year, and it really feels like it is an achievement. I will have reached my three-score years and ten that I was allotted, and everything else will be a bonus, which is what this play is about. I hated being 40 and 50, but I loved being 60. You get a free bus pass and half price to the museums, and I just feel very blessed that I am still here. Everyone is obviously terrified of health issues, and the biggest worries are that your mind will go, that you won’t remember what you had for breakfast, that you will keep asking the same questions, but this play is about finding the laughter and just getting on with it and making the best of it and enjoying every moment, and I am sure a lot of people are going to relate to that!

“I am at an age where quite a few of my close friends and not-so-close friends are no longer with us, so that’s why I feel a sense of achievement that I have got this far, and it just makes you want to enjoy every hour you have got, which is what this play is telling us… because really the alternative is not good! It has been so joyful for us coming into rehearsal. Every day has been gorgeous.

“Most of us have just come out of panto, which is great fun. But it is great to come back to this, to the nitty gritty of getting into the characters and finding out what the characters are about and what Ronald Harwood actually meant when he brought these characters to us, what the drama is all about.”

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