Paul Nicholas heads into a retirement home for Quartet at the Theatre Royal Brighton

Paul Nicholas
Paul Nicholas

Paul Nicholas in a retirement home? It comes as a shock to those of us who grew up with him in Just Good Friends.

“I am afraid I have done what we all do: I have grown old – and there is not a lot we can do about it,” explains Paul who enters the home for ageing opera singers in Ronald Harwood’s Quartet, which tours to the Theatre Royal Brighton from March 26-31.

“But it is actually great when you can be playing someone more your own age rather than having to try to play someone who is 45! And this is such a great play – a play about getting older. I don’t think we change as a person as we get older. The body changes and all the physical things, but the person that we are inside doesn’t change. If you keep active and keep going mentally, then I think inside you stay the same. There is no reason why we can’t all have the same spirit as we get older.

“But as actors we all come along to rehearsals and act like children, and it is very powerful from that point of view! It’s certainly a fun profession, and they do say that actors never really grow up. All that changes for actors I think is that the parts become a little bit more difficult to find for older men.”

But shouldn’t we be looking forward even now to Paul’s Lear one day?

“I have only ever done one Shakespeare and that was Claudio when I was 27 in Much Ado at the Young Vic. I wasn’t particularly taken by Shakespeare. It’s a bit like another language that you have to learn to be familiar with.”

He feels in much better hands with Sir Ronald Harwood: “Harwood just writes beautifully. When you are trying to remember a line, you think you have got it and then you look back at the script, and you realise it is very, very precise. We were sent an earlier draft of the script by mistake, and I looked at it and thought that it wasn’t quite spot on for my character who was tilted in a slightly-different direction. It was just a tad different, and you can see that Harwood recognised it in the next draft of the play.”

In recent years, the play has been made into a film, something Paul avoided in preparing for the play: “In the play, it is just the four of us. We talk about different characters, but you don’t actually see them. What is good about this version is that it is actually quite claustrophobic. It is between the four of us. It doesn’t open out too much. It doesn’t become an ensemble piece in any way.

“The play is about old people essentially, but old people who happen to have been in showbusiness. I think the fact that they are all performers or previous performers gives them a slightly more heightened awareness of their predicament, and the fact is that is rings very, very true. People talk over each other.

“They have breakfast and they can’t remember it. The play is really good on the memory thing. They repeat themselves and all those things that come with old age, but they never lose their passion for wanting to perform.”

Tickets cost £15.90-£36.90. Call the box office on 0844 871 7650.

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