On Tuesday night I was back at Harlequinade | All On Her Own for the first time since its press night (the evening following the matinée of The Winter’s Tale). These rarely aired Rattigan plays run back-to-back with no interval, with a combined running time of approximately 100 minutes.
The cast remains largely the same, with the odd exception – and something of an acting ‘super substitution’, with Zoë Wanamaker taking Judi Dench’s place as the grand dame of British acting talent.
It’s an intriguing combination of works. All On Her Own is a 20-minute monologue; it has its light moments but is essentially quite a sad piece. Harlequinade, on the other hand, is an all-out comedy – based on a theatre company attempting to put on some Shakespeare (including The Winter’s Tale, aptly). There is no obvious link between the two plays, bar the playwright.
All On Her Own follows widow Rosemary Hodge (Wanamaker), who’s just returned from a night out and starts a ‘conversation’ with her late husband. To begin with it’s all quite light-hearted, particularly when Rosemary decides to answer for her husband to fill in the gaps – Wanamaker adopting a deeper voice & a northern accent for these parts. However, one question she asks leads the evening to take a different direction and the atmosphere completely changes. It is a very cleverly written & moving piece.
I couldn’t imagine anyone more perfect for the role than Zoë Wanamaker. She is utterly compelling; sparkling in the humorous parts, heartbreaking as the story unravels.
The set was nice (an elegant, but minimalist, living room), though large chunks of the play are spent on either side of the stage rather than the centre, which can’t be ideal for patrons sat on the ends of rows (the walls’ curvature does have a reasonable effect on views in the Garrick).
Harlequinade changes the mood immediately. The show begins with a short public information film introducing CEMA (Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts), before heading straight into a theatre company’s dress rehearsal for Romeo & Juliet.
Miranda Raison & Kenneth Branagh take centre stage as acting couple Edna Selby & Arthur Gosport, . They are glorious as the Gosports – luvvies through and through. I think the fact that it’s set in the 40s helps the latter’s acting style to fit in; rather than appearing terribly old school in comparison with the rest of the cast (as in The Winter’s Tale), he seems very much at home in this piece. His physical comedy (especially the “little jump” & the wig work) is impeccable.
It’s wonderful that Harlequinade gives Hadley Fraser (First Halberdier) the chance to show off his comic chops as an excitable member of the company who, for a short time, gains a single line in the play – it’s also a joy to hear him use his vocal talents in the song that closes the show, really milking a long note towards the end.
There are many other fine performances, most notably Zoë Wanamaker as old-hand Dame Maud (insistent on giving advice), John Shrapnel as the temperamental George Chudleigh, and John Dagleish as the local policeman, employing yet another accent from his armoury & a range of facial expressions. Stuart Neal (Fred Ingram) also makes a very entertaining exit, combining dance, autograph signing & a chair…
The real star, for me, is Tom Bateman as put-upon stage manager Jack Wakefield. As his character attempts to hold the company together, Bateman holds the show together with perfect comic timing – but at the same time you can see him grappling with the responsibility of the production and an ultimatum issued by fiancée Joyce (Kathryn Wilder).
This one-act play really is a laugh a minute, and even more frequent by the end! Despite having seen it before, I still cried with laughter – and I’m sure I will on my next visit too.
My verdict? An interesting combination of hidden gems brought to life by some of the West End’s finest talents – enjoyment guaranteed.