Once again, I’ll show gratitude to the Today Tix app for these tickets, which I won on their daily ticket lottery. I couldn’t have asked for a better end to the day, with a fantastic double-bill from playright Terence Rattigan delivered by the very capable Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company over at the Garrick – they have a season of plays with some fantastic casting so do take a look.
This particular double-bill is presented in one act, which makes for an interesting contrast in pace and really unites the faces of comedy and tragedy in theatre. The first piece, All On Her Own is a one-woman monologue by the wonderful Zoë Wanamaker. A widow sits alone at home at a late hour, talking to her deceased husband. A masterful performance by Wanamaker as her grief takes hold, raking over details of his death, drawing conclusions which she may or may not truly think. The piece is short but incredibly insightful as to the nature of grief, the things you do to try and remember people, the silly things you forget which become important in those moments.
Then comes a gear change as the rest of the cast join Wanamaker for Harlequinade – a farcical behind the scenes view of a theatre troupe struggling to bring culture to post-war Britain. Kenneth Branagh and Miranda Raison star as a perhaps-too-old Romeo and Juliet, a fact leaned on for comedic effect throughout in this mis-matched company as Branagh attempts to leap youthfully around the set with varying degrees of success. Zoe Wanamaker delights as a theatrical old soak, throwing out cutting remarks and throwing back the wine as the chaos develops around her. Backstage tantrums, secret children, evading the law and dealing with not being a young, spritely 17 year old anymore are just some of the issues that the ever-stressed Stage Manager Tom Bateman has to deal with. Bateman plays this role to perfection, his character slowly spinning out of control as events unfold around him that he is helpless to prevent.
Perhaps an extra layer of comedy lies in the fact that Harlequinade fondly sends up a troupe who are attempting to put on performances of Romeo and Juliet and The Winter’s Tale – the latter being a show which this company is performing in rep, alongside this double-bill.
Hadley Fraser’s cameo as a background artist getting his first break at a speaking role when a cast member walks out is simply sublime. From his shy and subtle waving to his mother in the audience, to endless worrying over how to deliver his one line, for so little stage time in this show, he delivers so much, and his song to bring the curtain down is the perfect end to a wonderfully diverse evening.
Harlequinade / All On Her Own is running in repertory with The Winter’s Tale at the Garrick Theatre until 13th January 2016.