'Harlequinade'/'All on Her Own' Review Ė Branagh and Co Send Up Vanished Theatrical World
The Veteran Actor Will Join His Fellow Cinderella Co-stars Lily James and Richard Madden In the Production At Londonís Garrick Theatre In Summer 2016

The Guardian, 8 November 2015
By Michael Billington

Ironically, co-directors Rob Ashford and Kenneth Branagh have chosen to revive Terence Rattiganís 1948 farce, 'Harlequinade', which affectionately portrays exactly the kind of old-fashioned actor-manager tradition the six-play Kenneth Branagh season at the Garrick is designed to subvert.

The play revolves around the trials of a thespian couple who discover, during a dress rehearsal for a provincial tour of Romeo and Juliet, that their marriage may not be legitimate.

Rattigan wrote the piece at a time when subsidy was seen as a way of bringing Shakespeare to a new audience, and I shrink from his naive conclusion that theatre with a social purpose is ďa contradiction in termsĒ.

But the play survives through its detailed picture of the myopic obsessiveness of actors for whom the stage is a self-enclosed world. Branagh himself exactly captures the vain absurdity of Arthur Gosport, who treats real life as a needless intrusion and who tries to counter his advancing years by having Romeo do skittish little jumps on to low-level benches.

Miranda Raison looks too young to be plausible as his equally ageing Juliet, but there are sharply-defined cameos from Tom Bateman as a harassed stage manager, John Shrapnel as a mutinous old pro and ZoŽ Wanamaker as a hilariously soused theatrical Dame. Itís hardly major Rattigan but it shows actors delightedly sending up a happily vanished theatrical world.

Wanamaker also appears to great effect in a monologue, 'All on Her Own', which Rattigan wrote for television in 1968. It shows a lonely widow hitting the bottle and seeking to commune with her late husband, whom she may have driven to his death.

Itís a slight piece but, given that the dead husband was a self-made man patronised by his socially superior wife, it confronts Rattiganís preoccupation with the inequality of passion.

Wanamaker, sprawled over a sofa in humiliating self-abasement, performs the piece with a soul-baring virtuosity that transcends the material and confirms that the Branagh season is devoted to actors.

ē At Garrick, London, until 13 January. Box office: 0330 333 4811. Tickets available at Guardian box office.


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