Four Quartets review, Oxford Playhouse: Ralph Fiennes is brilliant in this profound one-man production

Taking on T S Eliot’s famous poem, the English actor gives a grounded, conversational performance, seeming somehow both elderly and childlike

Alexandra Pollard
Tuesday 15 June 2021 15:13
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<p>Innate gravitas:  Ralph Fiennes brings Eliot’s finest poem to the stage</p>

Innate gravitas: Ralph Fiennes brings Eliot’s finest poem to the stage

For the first 30 seconds or so of Four Quartets, the house lights still up, Ralph Fiennes stares out into the audience as if he’s disappointed in each and every one of us. In himself, too. There is a hangdog quality to the veteran English actor that has only grown over the years; he plays into it at just the right moments of this profound, demanding one-man performance of T S Eliot’s famous poem.

Here’s the thing about Four Quartets: don’t even try to understand it. Not in any literal way, at least. Even Eliot himself said that “it is not exhausted by any explanation”. He wrote most of this set of four poems during the Second World War, when all the theatres were closed (sound familiar?) and his work as a playwright had been interrupted, and he was clearly in an existential mood.

There is no plot or narrative to speak of, nor any concrete sense to be gleaned – it is all mystical, paradoxical, playful ponderings. At heart about a poet trying to make sense of himself and the world around him, it’s also allusive and elusive.

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