Kenneth Branagh brings two Terence Rattigan plays to the Garrick Theatre; the hilarious, ‘Harlequinade’ and the darker, ‘All On Her Own”. The latter, a one woman monologue, has Zoë Wanamaker as the widow talking to her dead husband about how he died and why, aided by a lot of whisky. She has more of a bit part in Harlequinade, but is just as impressive in both comedy and drama.
My personal feelings on the first play, were that Rattigan’s writing left too much for his lead woman to do. Creating a double part for the lead woman – the husband and widow – although, not without its dramatic merit, seemed only partially developed. Maybe a modern mind, brought up on zombie films and horror, was hoping that a real ghost was going to appear. The opening was lit from behind the gauze, casting her shadow on it whilst at the same time a separate figure was standing near her disappearing when the gauze went up and the lighting changed. It seemed a shame that this technique was not used again, and left us hoping throughout for something more spooky to happen. Instead we got a strange rumbling soundtrack and Zoe’s back and forth internal dialogue.
Harlequinade followed on and was introduced with an original CEMA propaganda film. Those of you old enough will know that this forerunner to the Arts Council of Great Britain was formed during World War Two and promoted British culture throughout the UK as a way to keep morale high during the war years. Had Harlequinade been written in time, it would certainly have lifted the spirits of the British people.
This play was sheer comic class. A famous acting couple are touring around the UK. In doing so they demonstrate the pretentious, vacuous, and self-centred nature of actors and the acting world. We first meet the couple playing Romeo and Juliet with Miranda Raison as Juliet who just about passes for her casting age. The same cannot be said about Branagh’s Romeo who is clearly far too old to play the 17 year old star-crossed lover. He youthfully tries to leap onto a bench bringing much laughter from his partner. Here lies the humour of this piece – the absurdity of these actors! Verging on farce, this play was full of laughs and anyone interested in the world of acting will absolutely love the humour poked at the world of luvvies. There was good acting all round from a mixed cast of young and older actors. Branagh’s comic timing is exceptional as is Wanamaker’s. However, every actor brought their own humorous contribution to this show.
The joining of these two one-act plays created the perfect night of dark and serious drama, followed by light and playful comedy. A good showing from Kenneth Branagh and his company. We look forward to seeing A Winter’s Tale in cinemas soon.
Highlight of the show – Harlequinade in its entirety. So many gags and stereotypes rolled into a show that hasn’t dated since its 1948 debut.