The Theatreguide.London Review
Harlequinade and All On Her Own
Garrick Theatre Winter 2015-2016
As part of the opening salvo in its year-long residence in the West End, the Kenneth Branagh Company offers this double bill of plays by Terrence Rattigan, serving very effectively as a showcase for the rep company as well as a nicely balanced evening's entertainment.
Harlequinade (1948) anticipates Frayn's Noises Off in comically showing an acting company midway through a long tour.
The producer-director-star played by Kenneth Branagh and his co-star wife (Miranda Raison) are getting a bit old to be playing Romeo and Juliet, and know it.
Yet it is not just ego, but also a real dedication to theatre and their audiences, that keeps them going and that has them still rehearsing new bits of business. (The characters are based in part on the American team of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, famous for perfecting their performances right up to closing night.)
Of course they are monsters of ego and self-absorption, but in the midst of all the easy laughs Rattigan convinces us that such single-mindedness and tunnel vision is essential for theatre to happen at all.
Along with predicable backstage gags – an actor quits, an extra becomes obsessed with his single line, a veteran actress uses rehearsal delays to get tipsy – are potentially serious developments the playwright skilfully absorbs into his benign vision.
Someone's daughter (and even more traumatic, granddaughter) no one knew about, someone's girlfriend who demands he quit and get a real job, someone who may have had one wife too many – these are all coped with comically as the play they're rehearsing somehow manages to go on.
Harlequinade has all the fun of a peep-behind-the-curtain farce, leavened with an honest respect for the dedication and talent of its characters. And of course it gives Branagh and the rest of his able cast the opportunity to show off and have some fun.
The curtain-raiser, a written-for-television script from 1968, is a solo piece for Zoe Wanamaker that again shows Rattigan ahead of his time as it anticipates Alan Bennett's Talking Heads.
Wanamaker plays a recent widow having an imaginary conversation with her dead husband during which some dark truths about herself and their relationship slip out.
Typically with Rattigan it is nothing violent or melodramatic, just a history of small and terribly polite cruelties which, as he was always aware, are the most destructive. Wanamaker is, of course, impeccable.
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Review - Harlequinade - Garrick Theatre 2014
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