Four Quartets – T.S. Eliot – 2021 – dir. Ralph Fiennes

In December 2021 going to the theatre for the first time since February 2020 felt truly special. One thing I do love London for is the easy access to the best theatre in Europe. It’s all here on our doorstep and if you hunt well the tickets can be cheaper than VIP seats in a cinema, or even regular seats in Everyman (though the experience is worth it).

The beginning of 2020 was theatre intensive for me with: This is Going to Hurt, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, Endgame, Opera Undone, and Cyrano de Bergerac. I didn’t manage to see Blithe Spirit booked for 18 March, it just didn’t seem like a smart move at that stage. Nonetheless, I had some experiences stocked to carry me through the first year. Also, the NT At Home was a blessing. 

That said there is irreplaceable excitement in going to the theatre. When in December I mentioned my 2022 plan to my friend, she asked why wait, and swiftly booked us tickets to Four Quartets. We both had a chance to see Ralph Fiennes in theatre a few times before and knew we won’t’ be disappointed.

Four Quartets is a set of four poems by T.S. Eliot. As with many of the plays I see I haven’t read them before. In the case of plays it is clear cut, they are written to be watched not read. As soon as I finished secondary school I started doing it the right way and going to the theatre instead of laboriously reading them. As for poetry, it comes down to my small-mindedness, I feel since I started working I don’t have the brain space to meaningfully engage with poetry. There are too many distractions, my brain is like a puppy and finds everything interesting. So I stopped reading poetry. 

Ready for a complete surprise we happily met at Charing Cross to make our way to Harold Pinter Theatre. From the theatres I visited this one has by far the least amount of legroom on the balcony, so the plays have to be worth the, very literal, squeeze. 

And this time it was very much the case. Ralph Fiennes was Ralph Fiennes, swiftly moving from energetic and angry, to winking and joking all the way to sedate and depressed or torn by realities. The text is obscure, let’s be very honest about it, but it came alive in Fiennes’s interpretation. He added the human physicality to it, tearing it out of the page and showing it to us in three dimensions, a living, breathing, screaming, and despairing thing. Not without joy, but a joy that is always precarious.

For me after such a long time without theatre, the disjointed nature of the text actually had additional resonance. Because of the pandemic my brain has a tendency to become a bit unmoored. I noticed I lost the capability to hold a linear conversation, instead I jump from topic to topic following whatever takes my mind’s fancy. I’m sure this makes a terrible conversation partner of me, but it is what it is, social skills supposedly can be relearned. 

This is why the sometimes disorganized flow of Eliot’s poetry really jived with the state of my brain. It made me feel understood in an almost cathartic way. I felt this connection that comes only during a live performance, something that cannot be replaced by any other medium. The combination of live performers with the fact that we share the experience with hundreds of others is unique.

‘Play zero’ in my 12 Plays for 2022 project was definitely a success!

Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot

directed by Ralph Fiennes

starring Ralph Fiennes

Harold Pinter Theatre

December 2022

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