Terence Rattigan’s two plays Harlequinade and All On Her Own are separated by a twenty year gap, by the medium for which they were written – and by rather more. The former, first produced in 1948, is as The Times critic put it at the time “… a laughing tribute to the theatre which is due from a young man upon whom it has smiled so consistently…” The latter was a commission for television and produced in 1968 at a time when Rattigan’s star was recovering from a fall. That fall, not at all of his own making, was a reflection of the new drama of the mid 1950s when the perceived gentility of a Rattigan or a Noel Coward (“boulevard theatre”) was supplanted by the realism of first Brecht then the home grown Osborne, Arden, Wesker, Delaney and Pinter. However whilst the drawing room may have been vacated there was rarely criticism by the new wave of dramatists who admired the craft of Coward or Rattigan – indeed Harold Pinter praised them both and had appeared in the latter’s Separate Tables.
In choosing to include two Rattigan plays along with John Osborne’s masterpiece The Entertainer in this long season of players at the Garrick – by The Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company – Branagh has acknowledged Theatre’s debt to both. To choose Harlequinade rather than the more familiar The Browning Version or The Winslow Boy was vindicated by this superb production dominated by a truly great comic performance by Branagh himself as the Actor/Manager Arthur Gosport. Gosport is an aging juvenile playing Romeo in an Arts Council sponsored tour of Shakespeare’s play. His dark and very full wig can only partly disguise the fact that he is perhaps thirty years too old for the role. His rather younger wife Edna (Miranda Raison) is Juliet and between them they are “troopers” in the great tradition of the touring theatre. Rattigan was not a great fan of the Arts Council or of “Theatre with a Social Purpose” and his rather conservative demolition of it in Harlequinade could be somewhat bitter in less deft hands. In fact we just see them and their company as being borderline certifiable “Luvvies” without malice but full of gossip and pretentions.
Harlequinade is set on that sometimes difficult border between high comedy and outright farce. It is said that farce is “real people in unusual situations” and here the unusual is created by the arrival of a young woman who claims to be Gosport’s grown up daughter, Muriel, and by the apparent existence of a grandchild (neither of whose existence he was previously aware). For Gosport the idea that he is a grandfather just before playing Romeo is a huge shock. The plot unfolds with plenty of opportunities for Branagh to demonstrate a special talent for farce and, of course, for character creation! There is much fine writing which is showcased with perfect timing (essential in farce) by the Company as a whole and by Branagh in particular.
If Harlequinade is high comedy the monologue All on Her Own is sad and introspective. Whether Alan Bennett was aware of it when nearly twenty years later he put together his Talking Heads monologues, also for the BBC, I don’t know. But the genre is the same – as is the quality of the writing. Rosemary returns tipsily from a party to an empty apartment where she has lived alone since the death of her husband. He died of an overdose of sleeping pills and she is unsure whether it was accidental or not and tries to find out. This she does as she demolishes the better part of a bottle of whisky. Her memories are in turn maudlin and sentimental but rich and passionate as well. For this to be convincing requires an actress of sensitivity and style and in Zoë Wanamaker we have just that. She is utterly believable in her sadness and her loneliness and her lack of comprehension as to how what happened happened. She also still has the forlorn beauty – a still vibrant if slightly fading sexiness – which you know has been her forte all her life.
These two plays are put together for the first time and serve as a timely reminder (along with recent revivals of Flare Path and French Without Tears ) just how good a playwright Terence Rattigan was and how wide his range. If the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company maintains this standard throughout its season we are in for some further treats!
Review by Paddy Briggs
All On Her Own
by TERENCE RATTIGAN
Cast includes JAYGANN AYEH, TOM BATEMAN, KENNETH BRANAGH, JESSIE BUCKLEY, VERA CHOK, JACK COLGRAVE HIRST, JOHN DAGLEISH, HADLEY FRASER, ANSU KABIA, STUART NEAL, ZOË RAINEY, MIRANDA RAISON, MICHAEL ROUSE, JOHN SHRAPNEL, ZOË WANAMAKER, KATHRYN WILDER and JIMMY YUILL.
24th October 2015 – 13th January 2016
The first season of the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company begins with a unique Terence Rattigan double bill, as Zoë Wanamaker appears alongside Kenneth Branagh in the rarely seen comic gem HARLEQUINADE, following her performance of the powerfully atmospheric one-woman play, ALL ON HER OWN.
HARLEQUINADE follows a classical theatre company whose intrigues and dalliances are surprisingly revealed with increasingly calamitous consequences in an affectionate celebration of the lunatic art of putting on a play.
In a striking contrast that displays Rattigan’s astonishing range, ALL ON HER OWN tells the story of Rosemary (Wanamaker) who, alone at midnight in London, has a secret burden to share that is at times both heart-breaking and sinister.