After a wonderful evening at The Winter’s Tale, the first in the season of plays from the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company’s run at The Garrick Theatre in London, we were excited to be heading back – this time for the Terence Rattigan double bill of ‘All On Her Own,’ and ‘Harlequinade.’
Apart from Judi Dench, who doesn’t have a role in these performances, the actors are of course the same. Zoe Wannamaker joins the theatre company and kicks off the evening with the monologue ‘All On Her Own.’ It was written in 1968 by Rattigan, originally as a radio play for the BBC, which may explain the very static set. That and the fact that the space available is very limited as it takes place right at the front of the stage due to the scenery for Harlequinade being just behind the curtain. In ‘All On Her Own,’ Zoe Wannamaker plays Mrs Hodges, a less than merry widow, who on returning from a party to her empty house begins to attack the whisky decanter with alarming rapidity. I was concerned for Miss Wannamaker’s bladder, bearing in mind she had another role to play in Harlequinade later. Initially, I was distracted by the fact that she didn’t immediately kick off her shoes on returning home. Who doesn’t do that? Several minutes into the monologue she remedies this situation and I could finally settle down and enjoy the performance.
Mrs Hodges is, as the play title implies, all on her own as her husband has died. But how did he die? This is what is worrying his wife. She is concerned that he may have taken his own life and she wants answers. As she becomes more lubricated she begins to channel the dead Mr Hodges imploring him to give her answers about the events of the night he died. Her husband, a rough northern builder, who she now presents to her well to do friends as an architect, is amusingly mimicked by her in both speech and actions. He ‘tells’ her his death was an accident but Mrs Hodges is unconvinced and realises too late how much she loves and misses her husband. It’s a sad play that ensure the audience is now ready for something light and fluffy, and ‘Harlequinade’ delivers.
In ‘Harlequinade’, we have a rather moth-eaten travelling theatre company led by Arthur Gosport, played by Kenneth Branagh and his wife Edna Selby, played by Miranda Raison, who are putting on, yet again, Romeo and Juliet. The ageing actors are of course too old to be playing the teenage lovers and there are regular and hilarious complaints about the lighting being too harsh.
Great actors playing bad actors is quite a challenge, I imagine, and difficult to get right. Kenneth Branagh flounces ridiculously round the stage sporting an outrageous wig, trying new approaches to the staging of Shakespeare’s play, which do not meet with much encouragement from his Juliet. Tom Bateman, as the much put-upon stage manager, Jack Wakefield, is kept very busy dashing hither and thither in his attempts to hold the whole production together, developing quite some perspiration under the ever changing lighting scheme. Hadley Fraser, as the star-struck halberdier, also delivers a delightful comic performance.
Zoe Wannamaker as Juliet’s nurse is a wonder to behold. Definitely inebriated, maybe it was all that whisky from the previous play, she gives a masterclass in pronouncing the word ‘bitch’ with maximum effect.
A lesson in how to avoid a charge of bigamy may also prove useful in the future. Who knows? There is no interval. I love a play without an interval. I’m not sure what the theatre’s bar thinks about it, but avoiding all that climbing over other people’s legs and buying a mediocre glass of house white in an over crowded bar or an over priced ice cream tub that is invariably missing its spoon, suits me fine.
There were a few empty seats and no queues outside waiting for returns as there had been for The Winter’s Tale. It was a different type of evening, but lots of fun, so I assume there are still tickets available. ‘Harlequinade’ and ‘All On Her Own’ continue at the Garrick Theatre until 13th January. So you know what to do if you want to see great actors acting badly for comic effect.