Beginning the first season by the ‘Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company’ at the Garrick Theatre in London is ‘Harlequinade/ All on Her Own’ – two rarely performed plays by the celebrated British playwright, Terrence Rattigan. This season, in which the company will take over the theatre for a year, promises a very exciting troupe of actors – Zoë Wannamaker, Judi, Dench, Derek Jacobi as well as Branagh himself, but also some new kids on the block, fresh from drama training who are clearly set to give the industry a bit of a shake up.
Zoë Wanamaker opens the show with ‘All On Her Own’, a monologue in which her character (Rosemary) deals with the grief of losing her husband and battles with the unanswered questions and the unspoken words that have been left behind. She seamlessly transforms into him in parts of the play in which he answers the question she is burning to ask him. It is remarkable how skilfully she does this and with wonderful clarity. The play is incredibly detailed and nuanced and what could be a rather ‘woe-is-me’ tale is in fact completely the opposite. It has a fantastic sense of light and shade, in which moments of humour sneak up on you and are delightfully heartbreaking.
Harlequinade is an absolute riot. Set in amongst the drama that happens off stage in a classical theatre company who are performing ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘The Winter’s Tale’, (which is quite a coincidence, considering that ‘The Winter’sTale is also part of this season) as part of tour, a series of unfortunate events occur. The humour within the piece is pitched perfectly and – much to my glee- it does not become a performance by ‘the stars’ - Kenneth Branagh, Zoë Wanamaker - and their ensemble. The company works fantastically well together to achieve a hilarious show that mocks exactly the sort of theatre it is. The actors do not play for laughs, but let the text do the work allowing it to be on the border of being farcical but never quite tipping over the edge. It is most certainly, ‘feel-good theatre’ and deliciously entertaining.
Other than the plays sharing their writer, there seems to be no other reason forcombining them. ‘All On Her Own’ packs quite a punch and asks it’s audience to consider some of the biggest life questions there are, however, its poignancy is lost by the end of the play as a whole, because of the hilarity of ‘Harlequinade’. Perhaps the stark contrast between the two is the very reason they have been put together and this huge gear change between them is the desired effect but somehow it is as though the very last piece of the puzzle is missing.
Review by Jess Alade