SUE Holderness, 68, is best known for her role as Marlene in Only Fools And Horses, wife of John Challis’s Boycie. The latest in her long list of theatre credits is Quartet, which she stars in alongside Paul Nicholas, Wendi Peters and Jeff Rawle. Set in a retirement home in Kent, four elderly opera singers contemplate ageing and tune up for one final performance. Sue tells EDWIN GILSON about the show and why she’s determined to fit as much as possible into her remaining years

You’re in Salisbury at the moment, aren’t you? The eyes of the world are on the city.

Yes, it’s slightly spooky. There are policemen all around because of the nerve gas fear. It’s nice to be in a comedy, so people who are a bit nervous out there can come in and have a good laugh. They say laughter is the best medicine.

You play Jean in Quartet, who is a once celebrated but now penniless singer. Is she bitter?

She’s an absolute diva, a real monster. She was the big star of her day but now she’s living in this old person’s home which she resents. The other three characters are living every minute of their lives to the full but she doesn’t want to face the future.

The other characters have a motto of “no self-pity”.

Yes, and Jean comes in full of self-pity. She’s drowning in it. But she comes to realise there is no point of moping around. This play takes some of the fear out of the later years of one’s life.

A lot rests on the chemistry between the characters. Is that the play’s great strength?

All four characters are fascinating. Paul Nicholas plays a character who is very twinkly and naughty, which I can assure you he is off stage as well. Trying not to laugh on stage is extremely difficult. Jeff Rawle and Wendi Peters are known from television but we are all theatre performers. We are in Quartet for our television work, though.

Why do you think that?

Whenever any of us is cast in a touring play it’s because we’re known from the little box in your living room. Paul Nicholas has done loads and was a pop star once, but is really know for [BBC Sitcom] Just Good Friends. John Sullivan wrote that and Only Fools And Horses, so he’s played a big part in mine and Paul’s lives. Marlene is my passport for working until I shuffle off this mortal coil.

Did you have an immediate connection with your co-stars in Quartet?

Most actors are jolly nice and fun but occasionally you meet one who doesn’t help the atmosphere of a play. That’s not the case here, we’re all having a ball. And getting paid for it – how lucky is that?

I don’t suppose you’ll name any of the actors you haven’t gelled with?

I could, but I wouldn’t dream of it – imagine meeting them again. Tempers start to fray when you’re performing a show that doesn’t strike a chord with the audience, but with this you can feel the love of the audience. We’re greatly looking forward to coming to Brighton. Some theatres are built for this kind of play and that’s certainly the case there.

Do you have any personal links to Brighton?

My son lives there and I’m staying with him when the play goes to Brighton. His wife is about to have a baby and I think I’ll be there the week that it is born. I’ve always loved Brighton and I feel like I’m coming home when I go there. The thing about having a theatre the size of Brighton’s is that when you’ve got a hit, you can make money.

Would you like to see theatre spread more evenly around the country? Obviously the West End has long had a monopoly on the really big shows.

Of course. The world’s changed so much since I left drama school in 1970. Back then, there was a reputable drama company is almost every city. People are tempted by their wonderful big television screens and Netflix. It’s harder for theatres to fill up and it’s why so many have closed.

Do you truly see Netflix as a genuine threat to live theatre and even music?

Everyone is worried about money now – we don’t know which way our country is going. In the old days you could put complete unknowns on stage because people would want to see the play regardless of who was in it. But you can’t get that live experience anywhere else.

Quartet examines the process of ageing. Do you tend to think much about it personally?

I’m so impressed I’ve got this far. When we were young there was a song called When I’m Sixty Four and it seemed a million years old. We thought we’d never get there. We were all brought up with three score and ten as our allotted span, and I’m going to be 69 next month. I feel a sense of achievement that I’ve made my three-score and ten. I’m at a point where I want to do everything – see the world and travel. My mother never wanted to go anywhere, and I hope I never feel like that.

Why is there a difference in thinking between generations in that sense?

Before, people smoked and drunk like mad and didn’t know it was bad for them. I do still eat too much chocolate, though. I watch my diet and have been blessed with good health. I’m touching wood like mad as I say that. I don’t know how long I’ve got left but I’m in a job I love and want to do it until I die. I have a family I love, too. I honestly think I’m one of the luckiest people in the world.

Do you still keep in touch with John Challis? I know you’ve appeared in a number of theatre shows together.

I’ll be seeing him on Sunday. There’s an Only Fools And Horses convention in Exeter and he’ll be staying at my house on Wednesday and Thursday even though I won’t be there. I see a lot of him and his wife Carol. We’re very good friends. John and I were a double act for all those years and actually liked each other – you often hear of double acts who hate each other.

Theatre Royal Brighton, 
March 26 to 31, 7.45pm (2.30pm on Thursday and Saturday). Visit