Harlequinade / All on Her Own
The Kenneth Branagh Company
In tandem with The Winter's Tale, The Kenneth Branagh Company is offering the light relief of Terence Rattigan's Harlequinade and as a curtai-raiser, his short monologue, All on Her Own.
All on Her Own
This 25-minute solo features the winning Zoe Wanamaker playing genteel widow Rosemary Hodge one lonely midnight as whisky flows following her return from a party.
In a spirit of investigation, she attempts to conjure up the spirit or memory of her late husband, Gregory.
He was a builder (promoted for public consumption to architect by snobby Rosemary) who made the journey from home life in Huddersfield to the less familiar comforts of retirement in Hampstead. There, gruff Gregory, as remembered by Rosemary, is interrogated about his death.
The play throws up two key questions. First, whether the Gregory to whom she speaks is just a memory or whether his ghost takes over her body. Secondly, regarding the combination of whisky and pills that was either accidentally or deliberately administered.
Along the way, we also learn a considerable amount about the inner workings of a marriage that crosses class and cultural divides.
Running at around 70 minutes, this light comedy complements the other two pieces, with its allusions to The Winter's Tale and Romeo and Juliet.
It is an early precursor of Noises Off which takes place as a touring theatre company of startlingly low quality puts the final touches to its new run of R & J.
At its centre are Sir Kenneth Branagh as actor-manager, Arthur Gosport and Miranda Raison playing his wife, Edna Selby.
As if being very long in the tooth for these roles combined with an inability to act were not bad enough, Rattigan then throws in a series of mishaps of the kind that were probably the stuff of stock anecdotes amongst touring actors.
The company’s eminence grise is Miss Wanamaker's Dame Maud, whose drinking and inappropriate notes to the leading lady hardly help the cause.
However, on this fateful day, there are enough disasters to fill a series of EastEnders. Inter alia, we witness appearances by Gosport's previously unknown grown-up daughter and infant grandchild, the discovery and legal consequences of bigamy, an angry fiancée trying in vain to persuade her callow man to get a proper job and so much more.
It seems almost certain that Harlequinade appealed to the knight once affectionately known as Ken because of its large number of theatrical in-jokes, some of which are undoubtedly very funny.
Even so, it is a slim piece that would be far better paired with something more substantial to satisfy the demands of West End audiences, who will be paying top dollar to see much-loved stars in the flesh.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher